Editorial: Nonpartisan redistricting dies again

The bumpy and circuitous process of dismantling the California Legislature’s corrupting power to draw its own election district boundaries lurched forward one small step on Wednesday. Unfortunately, Sacramento insiders see the mini-progress as largely symbolic.

With a 27-11 bipartisan vote, the state Senate barely attained the minimum 27 votes necessary to call a statewide ballot for a constitutional amendment. Gov. Schwarzenegger has already said he would sign SCA 3 if it reaches his desk.

However, the legislation would first require two-thirds approval on the Assembly floor no later than Friday. At press time, all this seemed highly unlikely. In order to take action by the final day for voting on new bills, the Assembly would have needed to waive procedural rules and curtail any full public hearing.

This latest logjam becomes all the more frustrating because the top legislative leaders last year promised they would approve a redistricting proposal in 2006 if voters rejected Proposition 77 in the governor’s special election. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata was the only leader to honor that pledge, even if the extreme tardiness of Wednesday’s floor vote made it mostly a quixotic gesture.

Perata brought SCA 3 to the Senate floor just one day after those same top legislative leaders issued a joint statement saying that redistricting was dead for the November 2006 ballot because a package tying it to a loosening of term limits had died in committee. The increase of term limits could have served as a carrot for politicians to add incentive for accepting the power loss arising from independent redistricting.

The joint statement gave the excuse that “it is the best course not to pursue a sweeping reform package in the waning hours of the legislative session.” That is at best a shaky alibi for not fulfilling a direct promise to California voters. Their pledge was made a year ago, so therecould be no valid reason to have waited until the final weeks of the session to begin negotiating a viable redistricting bill — if the leadership was truly serious about ending their monopoly on drawing guaranteed-re-election district boundaries.

In 2004, no less than 153 legislative and congressional seats were on the ballot. Yet not one of those seats changed parties and not one challenger defeated an incumbent. That is exactly why taking away redistricting from the legislators who directly benefit from creating safe boundaries is the vital cornerstone of efforts to end the partisan gridlock paralyzing California governance.

The Examiner is making a pledge to voters, too, and you will be able to watch us honoring it throughout the next 12 months. This newspaper pledges to monitor all progress (or lack of progress) toward approving a viable redistricting proposal for the 2007 general election. And if the Legislature fails to move ahead on reasonable timeline, you can expect to read all about it here.

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