Yes on Prop 11

It’s time to stop allowing lawmakers to draw their own districts

Nothing shows the importance of reforming Sacramento more than the fiasco surrounding the state budget this year. Not only was it nearly three months late, it also turned out once again to be a turkey stuffed with gimmicks that fail to deal with the underlying structural deficit—just another case of “kicking the can down the road,” as Gov. Schwarzenegger often puts it.

Proposition 11 on the Nov. 4 ballot is no silver bullet, but it could help create better budgets—and it would certainly correct an absurd situation that allows the lawmakers to decide whom they represent, not the other way around.

As it stands, once every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, legislators draw up new districts for themselves based on the latest population information. It’s become known as the “safe seats” process because the lawmakers are careful to make sure their districts are full of people in their own party, whether Democratic or Republican.

The result is that the only time they face any real electoral opposition is during primaries. And because primaries tend to attract mostly diehard voters—far-right conservatives among Republicans, far-left liberals among Democrats—moderates rarely win, the two parties become hardened in their often extreme positions, and legislative compromise becomes difficult, if not impossible.

The most glaring example of that takes place at budget time, when a two-thirds vote is required for passage and the Republican minority can hang up the process. Fearing defeat in the next primary, every single Republican refuses to consider raising taxes even slightly, though the consequence is yet another jury-rigged budget that will carry a huge structural deficit with it the next year.

Prop 11 would create a 14-member commission of independent citizens to draw fair legislative districts. It wouldn’t be a panacea: Many if not most districts have natural Democratic or Republican majorities. But it may create just enough districts balanced between the two parties to favor centrist candidates, and the Legislature really could use a few more of those.

Most important, it would end the egregious conflict of interest that has legislators drawing their own districts to their own advantage.