Monday, February 21, 2005

Efforts to Kill Gerrymandering

Jeff Jacoby has a good column on gerrymandering and the efforts to kill it. Link.
The deepest and unhealthiest divide in American politics is not the one that separates Republicans from Democrats or conservatives from liberals. It is the gulf between Insiders and Outsiders -- between the incumbents who treat public office as private property and the increasingly neutered electorate in whose name they claim to act. (...)

The incumbent-protection racket takes many forms, from high ballot-access hurdles to onerous campaign-finance rules. But nothing does more to turn elections into shams than gerrymandering -- mapping congressional and legislative districts so that they become wholly-owned subsidiaries of one political party. (...)

Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees. Unlike the Supreme Court, the charismatic California governor intends to do something about it. He has launched a full-scale attack on redistricting abuse in his state, demanding that the power to draw election maps be taken from the legislature and turned over to a committee of retired judges. Legislators hate the idea, but they know that Schwarzenegger can go over their heads. People’s Advocate, the organization that spearheaded the effort to recall former Governor Gray Davis in 2003, has already begun collecting the 600,000 names on petitions it would take to bypass the legislature and submit a redistricting initiative directly to the voters.

Democrats were quick to blast Schwarzenegger, of course. The governor's bid to get the current districts replaced with honest ones in time for next year's election, fumed Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, "has the smell" of "a political power grab by the party that's not in power." But Republicans are no happier -- 16 of California's 20 Republican congressmen oppose Schwarzenegger's plan. The beauty of redistricting reform is that there is nothing partisan about it. It doesn't empower Rs at the expense of Ds, or Ds at the expense of Rs. It empowers voters at the expense of politicians.

Political trends often start in California, but this time the Golden State joins a crusade already in progress. Several states, including Iowa, Idaho, Arizona, and Alaska, have done away with partisan gerrymandering. Campaigns to follow suit are heating up in half a dozen others.

I had a post on the California effort on February 7. My comments there can just as well apply to this column.


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