At first glance, the idea of non-legislative, sort-of nonpartisan redistricting has a lot of appeal. Its proponents argue that it eliminates gerrymandered districts that protect incumbents, creates more competitive elections — that sort of thing. The problem with this is that Californians have already sorted themselves residentially by ideology. No matter who draws the districts in coastal California, except for Orange and San Diego counties, those districts will elect Democrats because that's who lives in coastal California, and liberals will dominate the primaries because liberals are the most active elements in the state's Democratic Party. In most of inland California, the reverse is true. Republicans will dominate because that's where they live, and right-wingers will prevail in the primaries because the California Republican Party is dominated by right-wingers.
That said, I prefer that the Legislature draw the districts because the ostensibly nonpartisan redistricting commission doesn't really reflect California. It contains five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. But California isn't a state in which the two parties are at parity. As of ?Sept. 3, the official count showed that 44.3% of the state's registered voters were Democrats, 30.9% were Republicans, 4.6% belonged to other parties and 20.2% declined to state.
A commission with that makeup would reflect the state, although that makeup would have to be subject to constant small changes. If we want a body that fairly reflects the state's political balance and is updated to reflect those changes on a regular basis, we already have one: the Legislature. For all its flaws, it's the most representative body that can reapportion the state. Which is why I favor a no vote on 20 and a yes vote on 27.
Proposition 21, which establishes an $18 annual vehicle license fee to maintain state parks. On this, my theory — I'm against ballot-measure budgeting — runs up against my practice, which favors the upkeep of parks. I'm going with my practice on this one.
Proposition 24, which repeals a billion-dollar tax break — chiefly for multistate corporations — that Republicans insisted on as their price for breaking the budget stalemate of 2008. With spending on schools and other public services routinely slashed, a yes vote would restore some badly needed funds.
Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California, the penalty for possession having already been reduced to the level of a traffic violation. The question, as I see it, is whether, when young people inhale, it's more character-building for them to be within legal boundaries or violating a somewhat arbitrary law. A close call; the principled liberal could go either way.
Proposition 22, which asks voters to prohibit the perennially strapped state government from taking funds from perennially strapped local governments, wins the "why are you asking us to disentangle California's governmental mess" prize. On this one, write nasty marginal notations on your ballot.
Harold Meyerson is editor at large of the American Prospect and a columnist for the Washington Post.