Put it on the ballot

Having a special statewide election this November, when a regular election is scheduled for next June, makes no sense. But if we’re to have one, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger insists we are, it should at least include the one initiative he’s sponsoring that is clearly worthwhile.

That’s Proposition 77, a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the job of drawing new legislative districts to a bipartisan panel of retired judges. Currently state legislators themselves draw up the districts after each census, a clear conflict of interest. The resulting collusion has created Assembly, Senate and congressional districts so safely Republican or Democratic that not one changed parties in the 2004 election.

If California is ever going to get past the partisan bickering and pandering now typical in the Legislature, voters need to break lawmakers’ grip on redistricting and restore honest competition to legislative races. Prop. 77 would do so.

Unfortunately, Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued to keep the measure off the ballot, saying that the wording of the petition qualifying it for the ballot and the one submitted to his office are not exactly the same. He’s right, but so what? The version on the ballot is the same one petitioners signed. The version Lockyer received was simply a clerical mistake.

Just this week, on Wednesday, the Legislature’s two top Democrats, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, lined up with Lockyer, asking the Sacramento federal district judge who will hear the case to admit them as intervenors. The Democrats are especially fond of the current system because it not only guarantees them safe seats, it also guarantees them a majority in both houses.

But what’s good for legislators is not necessarily good for the rest of us. Nearly 1 million people signed the petition qualifying Prop. 77. If we’re going to have this unnecessary special election, let’s at least allow voters to make an up-or-down decision on it. Democracy deserves as much.