From Sacramento — Remember redistricting reform, the effort to strip from legislators the power to choose their own voters?
It's the power that leads to gerrymandering or, in effect, lawmakers rigging their own elections.
Proposition 11, sponsored by a coalition of nonpartisan good-government groups and heavily funded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, passed by a thin margin (1.8%) in November 2008. It called for creation of a 14-member independent citizens commission to draw districts for the Legislature and state Board of Equalization.
The next once-a-decade remapping will occur in 2011, and take effect with the 2012 election.
Here's an update: Things aren't going all that smoothly.
* Not enough women and minorities are applying for seats on the commission, officials report. The panel's pool of applicants is heavily tilted toward old white guys. There's a concerted effort underway to recruit a more diverse pool by the application deadline, Feb. 12.
* It all could be moot anyway. A small group of Democratic political insiders is trying to repeal Prop. 11 and also torpedo a sequel that would extend the redistricting reform to congressional seats. They've filed an initiative for the November ballot.
The odds are that Prop. 11 will survive. The repeal effort is blatantly cynical, and Californians probably will see through the bunkum. But this election year is unpredictable.
Meanwhile, State Auditor Elaine Howle, whom Prop. 11 placed in charge of forming the commission, is teaming with a coalition of women and minority activists in an attempt to recruit more diverse applicants.
"People just don't know about it," says Chris Carson of Burbank, redistricting honcho for the League of Women Voters of California. "And most people's eyes glaze over after about five minutes" of redistricting chat.
"The perception is that it's only for professionals. We need generalists who are strongly rooted in their communities and who have strong experience in volunteer work."
That's unfortunate in a way. It's likely that anyone who has a clue about the arcane task of redistricting -- and is at all interested -- would not qualify. The goal of Prop. 11 sponsors was to filter out people with partisan agendas. But they probably went too far.
For example, , an applicant or immediate family member cannot have run for state or federal office in the last 10 years or have been a political consultant, legislative staffer or lobbyist during that period. Nor can the applicant have contributed more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year.
At the end of a convoluted process, the commission will consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four "others."
Commissioners will be paid $300 per day plus expenses for meetings.
At last count a week ago, about 6,000 people had applied. But 73% were male, and 52% were 55 or older. Whites represented 80% and Latinos only 8%. A mere 14% were from Los Angeles County, but 20% -- not surprisingly -- lived in the capital county of Sacramento.
Still, it should all work out. There'll be a large enough pool of women and minorities to seat a diverse commission representative of the state's demographics.
A bigger threat to reform is an initiative conceived by Michael Berman, a longtime Democratic strategist, redistricting guru and brother of U.S. Rep. Howard Berman of Van Nuys. The Bermans' goal is to kill an initiative that would also hand congressional redistricting to the independent commission.
The Berman proposal would commit a double execution by simultaneously burying Prop. 11. All redistricting would be returned to the Democratic-dominated Legislature.
But that's not how the so-called "findings and purpose" of the Berman initiative read. Titled "the 'Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act' or 'FAIR,' " the measure begins: "Our political leadership has failed us. California is facing an unprecedented economic crisis and we, the people (not the politicians), need to prioritize how we spend our limited funds. We are going broke. . . . "
And so forth with paragraph after paragraph of pot and kettle bilge. Based on Sacramento history, the independent commission won't spend any more money on redistricting than the Legislature has, and its meetings will be open, unlike the lawmakers' plotting behind locked doors.
"I'd be embarrassed to write that, and I'm a hack," says Rick Claussen, campaign consultant for the congressional redistricting reform. That initiative is being funded so far by wealthy Silicon Valley physicist and political activist Charles Munger Jr., a bankroller of Prop. 11. Half the necessary voter signatures have been collected to place the measure on the November ballot.
"I'm trying to uproot this evil" of gerrymandering, Munger says. "It's a national problem, but this is my state so I'm starting here. Whenever the politicians get into the game of selecting the voters, instead of the voters being free to select the politicians, that's bad for democracy."