Garcia: Pols keep going back to the well of bad ideas

About the only similarities between San Francisco and Sacramento most days is a penchant to let politics stand in the way of good ideas.

And that will help explain why so many bad ones keep coming back. Like the mayor’s question time measure on the city ballot, an issue that could very well outlive its intended target. Or in the case of Sacramento, the way legislative district boundaries are drawn — something state voters changed just two years ago and now self-serving lawmakers want to reverse before the plan even goes into effect.

Going backwards may be a good tack for desperate politicians, but it’s not for California.

State voters changed the way districts were decided in 2008, taking the job away from members of the Senate and the Assembly, who gerrymandered the boundaries to ensure easy re-elections. Tired of the ruse, voters gave the redistricting job to an independent, nonpartisan citizen’s committee — which, in keeping with California’s current political pace, still hasn’t been selected, in part because redistricting can’t take place until after the 2010 census.

But why wait for the voters’ choice to take effect when they can act now and return politics to a state of back room tradeoffs? And that is the intent of Proposition 27, written by incumbent politicians for incumbent politicians, and backed by members of the Legislature (almost solidly Democrats) and Congress, who want to keep the gravy train alive and well in Sacramento.

Backers of Prop. 27 argue that it will save the state money by dismantling the not-yet-assembled commission and its staff. But to believe that you’d have to be a lobbyist or a lawmaker — one who is threatened by the prospect of a more transparent government.

And that’s why there is yet another measure on the ballot, Proposition 20, designed to put an end to self-sustaining incumbency protections.

Prop. 20 would not only keep the independent redistricting panel, it would expand it to give it the authority to redraw congressional boundaries as well as legislative lines. And while opponents can point out that members of Congress don’t draw their district lines, members of the legislature with plans to move to Washington have a chummy, big-wink acknowledgment that there’s nothing better than demographically crafted congressional seat.

In other words, it’s the difference between getting to pick your government representatives or letting politicians decide who gets to vote for them — not the most democratic choice.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that there are two conflicting state propositions on the ballot, designed to confuse voters. Don’t let it. Prop. 20 is a necessary evil to beat back decades of self-preserving political gains. The proponents of Prop. 27 say that advocates for an independent redistricting commission haven’t accomplished anything, but that’s because they haven’t had a chance. And it is true that the commission’s work won’t magically transform either California’s or Washington’s political makeup — money and incumbency are still powerful factors in any campaign.

Yet an independent citizens group still has the chance to remove the cynicism inherent in political boundaries being drawn by the politicians within them —  the very roadmap that has given us near-permanent gridlock in Sacramento and
Washington.

The best argument for reforming the way district boundaries are drawn is that it would encourage more moderate candidates, which might lead to more studied compromise at state and federal levels. Certainly, with California’s lawmakers still unable to pass a budget nearly four months after their mandated deadline, the push for new election rules couldn’t be clearer.

The need for the change has been evident for years, and it only takes a quick review of the legislative districts drawn by its legislators to see. And the case history of redistricting in California is filled with political paybacks, with opponents from previous campaigns magically removed from the same district with the stroke of a pen.

State voters made their preferences known in 2008 and only the self-serving interests of elected officials stand in the way of offering real reform.

Politicians today easily confuse public with self-service. It’s time to link performance with tenure.

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