One idea for fixing California’s broken political system is to change the (rules of the) game. Another is to change the players. the players. Props 20 and 27 are about the latter.
THE PROBLEM: The CA government is permanently paralyzed. It takes 2/3 supermajority votes to pass any budget or to raise any taxes. No other state does this. Since CA’s Republican party is one of the most ultra-conservative in the nation, they just refuse to agree to any budget idea except slashing social spending and taxes at the same time. Worse, special interests (labor unions, big corporations, etc.) protect their own pet spending, such as education and corrections. The voters are no prize pig, either. Dozens of past voter initiatives protect popular (with middle class, middle-aged voters) spending, too. So, the only things that ever get cut to balance the budget every year is the social safety net, since its beneficiaries are politically powerless. Now, they’re taking a knife to infrastructure spending, too.
SOLUTION?? So, why not change the elected officials who make these decisions, or at least try to increase their incentives to act in the public interest?
In 2006 we did that. A proposition passed that will transfer decisions over drawing the shape and size of CA election districts from the legislature to a 14-person “neutral” committee of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 others. This body will redraw districts shortly, now that the 2010 census is done. The idea is that state senators and reps are unaccountable to voters because they all are in safe seats and thus cannot be defeated. They have to please special interests and their hard-core conservative/liberal bases, not the median voter. More competition would mean more accountability, supposedly. The redrawing of state legislature offices is already going to happen.
Props. 20 and 27 would change that, but in opposite ways. 27 would cancel the whole commission and put redistricting decisions back in the statehouses’ hands. Prop 20 would not only keep this commission, it would give it the power to redraw U.S. House districts, too. This would affect the whole country.
Unsurprisingly, liberals, labor unions, etc., are backing 27, since Democrats control the CA legislature; while conservatives and their corporate backers support 20 so the GOP will gain seats in the U.S. house of Reps.
PROS AND CONS: I think it comes down to increasing neutrality and electoral competition versus reducing democratic accountability. And, to political power, which is not a dirty thing. The commission might be more neutral and unbiased. But, to whom is it accountable? The legislature draws districts to favor incumbents, but we know where they live if we don’t like it.
Finally, let’s be honest. The Republican Party has lost its mind in the last two years. Why should Democrats in CA unilaterally give them more House seats? GOP-controlled Texas would never even think about doing this. in fact, in 2005 Tom Delay engineered a mid-decade gerrymandering of TX House seats and added 4-5 more Republicans to the U.S. House just because he could. Do you think the GOP agonizes over good government solutions that would disadvantage them?
To me, either all the states go down this road to non-partisan redistricting, or none should.
See you at Thursday’s meeting.