Editorial: Push on for nonpartisan redistricting

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a smart move to extend his current winning streak when he stood alongside a nonpartisan coalition of good government groups Tuesday and announced a new push for an impartial and independent citizens’ commission. The panel represents the governor’s renewed determination to take over election district redistricting.

Erasing the power of California politicians to draw district lines that guarantee election of incumbents and bosses’ picks would not burden the budget. Likewise, opposing legislators could not afford to be too loud in arguing against open government. As it happens, fair redistricting is also the most important structural reform needed for ending California’s longtime legislative gridlock.

The Examiner has been trumpeting the need for districting reform foryears. Letting elected officials set their own district boundaries in closed-door deals is an open invitation for the most self-serving aspect of gerrymandering.

We’re not saying nonpartisan redistricting will likely reverse the outcomes in many regions where voter majorities are predominantly Democratic or Republican. However, we are convinced that having more truly competitive districts would foster election of more legislators open to producing results by bipartisan compromise.

If recent history is any guide, the legislative leaders of both parties can be expected to give pious lip-service to the principle of independent redistricting while quietly nitpicking the proposal to death and leaving no holds barred in preventing a floor vote. But the delaying strategy will be less effective than in the past because the governor and his allies introduced their new proposal at the outset of the legislative session, giving notice they’re not about to let the legislature be bottled up again. During the last legislative session, a redistricting reform plan passed the Senate yet somehow did not arrive at the Assembly in time for a vote.

The plan this time: Create a Citizens Redistricting Commission with 11 independent members drawn at random by the Fair Political Practices Commission from a pool of 55 nominees chosen by a statewide panel of local election officials. The Citizens Redistricting Commission would have to contain four Democrats, four Republicans and three unaffiliated voters. And any redistricting boundaries would require at least one vote from each subgroup.

The fact is that California voters have defeated no less than five redistricting proposals since 1982, the last one in 2005 as part of the governor’s ill-fated special election.

The latest Citizens Redistricting Commission proposal has two advantages. One is Gov. Schwarzenegger’s signal that he is open to a package deal including the legislators’ much-desired loosening of term limits. The second is the reform coalition’s pledge to start collecting signatures for an initiative that could possibly be more stringent than anything that came out of the legislature.

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