Recently we got into a heated debate about redistricting that centered on the possibility, feasibility, and advisability of non-partisan solutions to the apparent absurdity that is the American electoral districting process. I almost hesitate to bring this all up again but its becoming a major issue in California politics right now so in interests of keeping the blog current I'll bring it up again. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (hereafter "A.S.") is proposing to overhaul the method we currently use to draw electoral districts in California. Right now, it is done by the majority vote of the State Legislature. A.S. proposes turning the process over to a non-partisan committee of "retired judges." This is very similar to some of the alternatives mentioned by Dr. Strangelove in the aforementioned debate.
A.S. does not specify how the committee will be selected or why "retired judges" should be less partisan than anyone else. That's key because LTG has told me that there is a significant conservative bias in the judiciary - especially at the local level - because so many judges are former prosecutors. But forget all that for a moment. Assume for now that they will draw districts in a completely non-partisan way. That districts will not be tortured shapes designed to preserve partisan or racial majorities. Rather they will draw "rational" boundaries that look more "reasonable" on a map. Perhaps corresponding to township or zip code boundaries something that ignore partisan concerns entirely.
The L.A. Timesis reporting that the Republicans in the California Congressional delegation are opposed to the A.S. plan because they see it as a partisan attack on conservatives. See, if the new "non-partisan" redistricting process goes through, the tortured boundaries that ensure safe seats for Republicans (and Democrats) will be replaced by boundaries that include broader and presumably more random cross sections of the ideological landscape. Since ideology is closely associated with class, occupation and - this is key - geography, redrawing the boundaries could create more districts where neither party is really at an advantage. That would tend to favor centrist candidates of both parties. So the conservative dominated Republican leadership in California fears that A.S. is proposing this new plan in an effort to take over the party and change its ideology rather than out of any true spirit of non-partisanship. Given the uneasy relationship between A.S. and the conservative wing of his party, this fear is probably justified.
I'm just to the left of being centrist so I don't mind such a plan all that much (I'd be willing, reluctantly, to trade away the left of wing of the Democratic party if it meant being saved from the scourge of the far right). But there are many on the left wing of the Democratic party and the right wing of the Republican party who would scream bloody murder over such a plan - and are warming up for it already. And who is to say that they don't have a right to call this a partisan plan? It's a centrist partisan plan but centrists can be partisan too - they just tend to riot less.
The reason I bring this up is because this example shows that even if you assume honestly non-partisan boundary selection, the boundaries can have partisan implications. Partisan politics is unavoidable when it comes to institutional design.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Posted by Raised By Republicans at 1:59 PM