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Redistricting: Those Who Draw the Lines Prevail
By Larry Aubry (Columnist)
Published October 16, 2008

It's both unnerving and reprehensible that Los Angeles Black leadership, elected officials especially, have said virtually nothing about the redistricting initiative on the November ballot-no community meetings, focus groups, press conferences, nothing. And incumbents,  who oppose Proposition 11 do their constituents a disservice by not seeking their views but taking their vote for granted on this critical issue.

Opponents of the initiative seek to have politicians retain control of state redistricting,  proponents argue that citizens are excluded from the process. Now, the majority party establishes district boundaries, sometimes, as in 2001, joining with the other major party to ensure incumbents' re-election. Obviously, constituents are not the primary focus of these deliberations. Given the lack of accountability in the process, opponents' calling themselves 'Citizens for Accountability," is both misleading and hypocritical.

Proposition 11 (Voters First Act) would change the authority for establishing district boundaries of the Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization from elected representatives to a 14-member commission. It specifies that the commission must include five Democrats, five Republicans and four from neither party; district boundaries require votes from three Democratic commissioners, three Republican commissioners and three commissioners from neither party, for approval; the commission must hold public hearings.

Proponents say Prop. 11 would "help end the gridlock that has paralyzed California state government and finally hold politicians accountable." They argue that this prevents law-makers from effectively addressing important issues, such as the state budget, education, healthcare, etc., and that drawing their own district lines guarantees re-election, not accountability to voters.

Proponents also contend that unlike the current process, the commission will redraw state legislative lines based on strict non-partisan rules and ensure that the process is transparent and respects existing city and county boundaries as well as communities. (Sponsors and supporters of Prop. 11 are decidedly conservative, proponents' largely liberal and progressive.)

Arguments in favor of Prop.11 include: Under current law, the legislature draws its own districts which results in 99% of incumbents being re-elected; state legislatures in charge of redistricting creates a conflict of interest because legislators tend to place their own self-interest ahead of the common good; a citizens commission will be able to make independent decisions leading to legislative boundaries based on fairness, not political aspirations; partisan gridlock has caused the legislature to underperform in its mission of serving the people of California.

 Opponents say Prop. 11 is confusing, complicated and "reeks of politics." (Since  opponents include virtually all elected officials, this allegation is ludicrous.) They contend it is unfair for a commission of just 14 members to make decisions for the entire state and there is no guarantee that the panel will represent everyone in a diverse state like California. "It's a power grab… a political shell game."

Arguments against Prop.11 include: No accountability to taxpayers; "It would allow politicians to hide behind the selected bureaucrats to maintain a hold on redistricting as they wish;" it would make it easier to mask hidden agendas of the people behind those on the commission and offers no assurance of the same representation for communities such as California's Hispanic community.

A plausible analysis of why many liberals and progressives oppose Prop. 11 might be that their close ties to the Democratic Party suggests existing redistricting is more beneficial for them. For Blacks (and Latinos) on big ticket issues, there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans whose votes are often inimical to their interests. (People of color  have been involved in redistricting for years and can attest that despite their diligent work, district lines are decided solely by the majority party.

Redistricting is about power and the current method tends to make districts non-competitive. The fear of losing power is undoubtedly a prime motivation of Prop.11 opponents; opposition by civil rights organizations, Latinos, and Blacks, inferentially, suggests they feel current redistricting benefits them-a curious conclusion for Blacks who have always been spectators of the redistricting process, but perhaps not for Latinos emboldened by their huge, ever-increasing numbers. Civil rights seems no longer a top concern for either group, but for vastly different reasons.

A clear example of the discriminatory nature of existing gerrymandering occurred after the last census when a significant number of Latino voters were removed from consultant  Michael Berman's brother's congressional district to protect against a potential Latino challenger.

For those who believe legislators should be held accountable at election time and face more than token opposition Proposition 11 is a welcomed alternative; for others, including Blacks and Latinos, who feel current redistricting serves their interests, the initiative is considered unnecessary.

The dilemma for Blacks is that neither current redistricting nor the proposed remedy necessarily benefits them. But since what exists is not in their best interest, opposing Prop.11 solely on the advice of Black elected officials who blatantly disrespect them would be a serious mistake.


Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail


Categories: A Black Perspective

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