Mickey Kaus has written a detailed case for proposition 77, the California initiative which aims to put some checks on gerrymandering. Some excerpts...
I'm going to vote for Proposition 77, which would try to end gerrymandering in California by giving the job of drawing district lines to a panel of retired judges.
Indeed, no California pol in either the U.S. House of Representatives, the state assembly, or the state senate was defeated in 2004. Yet state voters were pissed off! This impenetrability of elected institutions is as big an issue for our democracy as campaign finance reform, about which a hundred times more ink has been spilled. (After all, the candidate who raises more money quite often loses. The candidate who gets to rearrange concrete district lines to his advantage almost never loses.)
The New York Times Magazine's world-weary contrarian exposition of the difficulties of drawing competitive districts concluded that under Prop. 77For Democrats concerned that reform will only benefit Republicans, Kaus points out that...at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 congressional district could have competitive races.A dozen? A dozen seems like a larger number than zero! A dozen competitive seats would be a big improvement. I'll take it.
There's a similar ballot proposition in GOP-controlled Ohio. There, unlike in California, it's the Democrats pushing reform.
More centrist Democrats will be elected! Prop. 77 won't result in a GOP takeover of the California statehouse. There aren't enough Republicans in the state to go around. It might easily result in an increase of Democratic seats, because there will be more districts with slim Democratic majorities rather than a smaller number of safe-seat districts with huge Democratic majorities. If Dems sweep the new swing districts, they'll win big. But the winners are likely to be centrists who appeal to the swing voters, not paleoliberals or interest group hacks who know they can't be dislodged.(Of course the unstated corollary is that if all those Dem centrists in swing districts do a bad job, creating statewide voter disaffection -- then there would be a backlash, and a sweep of the slightly-Democratic districts by centrist Republicans. But isn't that how it should be -- rather than getting the same hack incumbents reelected no matter whether times are good or bad, whether policies are working or not?)
Democrats might retake Congress. Gerrymandering favors Democrats in California, but nationwide it's one of the things keeping Republicans in power. As Morton Kondracke notes, thanks to gerrymandering a surge for the Democrats analogous to the Gingrich surge in 1994 is probably no longer enough to change who controls the House. That's why the Republican National Committee has opposed Proposition 77, even though it's a pet project of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger.If the initiatives in California and Ohio pass, jumpstarting a national reform movement, the ultimate effects for the two parties are unknowable: unable to run as many partisan hacks in safe districts, the parties themselves would change. But the effect on government and the incumbent politicians is certain: they'd have to compete harder, appeal to more diverse constituencies, respond more directly to the electoral process, and shake off the partisan insiders who now hold the process captive. That's an unalloyed good, whatever your political affiliation.«»
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