Governor, Assembly Speaker Promote Dueling Redistricting Measures

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Governor Schwarzenegger on Tuesday helped hand in more than enough signatures to place a redistricting initiative on the November ballot. He did so on the same day outgoing Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez introduced his own measure. Nunez wants the legislature to place his idea on the ballot this fall too. KPCC's Frank Stoltze says both measures are designed to end the practice of state legislators drawing the boundaries of their own districts.

Frank Stoltze: In a little political theater, Schwarzenegger hoisted a box of petitions outside the Los Angeles County Clerk/Recorder's office in Norwalk and walked it up the steps.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: Ever since I ran for governor in 2003, I've been fighting for redistricting reform in order to get more centrist leadership back to California.

Stoltze: Under Schwarzenegger's initiative, a 14 member citizens commission, instead of the legislature, would draw the boundaries of state senate and assembly districts.

Schwarzenegger: Please welcome a great governor, Gray Davis. Thank you. (clapping)

Stoltze: The man the governor ousted from his job joined him in delivering the initiative's signatures. Former Governor Gray Davis spent more than a quarter century in Sacramento, as a legislator, as controller, and as the state's chief executive.

Davis: My experience in Sacramento was that sometimes the legislators, be they Democrat or Republican, would just check out on big issues, because they knew, whether they helped or didn't help, they were going to get reelected.

Stoltze: Government watchdogs say the redistricting plan legislators drew up and approved seven years ago was particularly egregious in its gerrymandering. Kathay Feng of Common Cause says it not only ensured that each political party would maintain control of a certain number of state senate, assembly, and congressional seats in California. In some cases, she says, lawmakers made sure potential challengers from within their own party ended up living outside their district.

Kathay Feng: When you look at some of the district lines, the wiggles and the squiggles, the strange contortions have a lot to do with an incumbent deciding that they wanted to exclude a potential challenger from their seat.

Stoltze: Feng says the governor's measure would lead to more competitive elections and a less partisan legislature. Gerrymandered political maps lead to the election of more conservative Republicans and more liberal Democrats, because activists within each party tend to exercise more influence over campaigns. Henry Vandermeir also supports the governor's proposal, but for different reasons. He heads the California Democratic Council, which represents more than 400 Democratic clubs around the state.

Henry Vandermeir: I think that we will definitely come out ahead on this. The way that demographics have been changing recently, we've been gaining a lot counties, of course, in registration; lots of counties are turning blue for us.

Stoltze: But the conservative Republican Assembly also has endorsed the governor's plan, feeling that the GOP might have a better shot at some seats too. Outgoing State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez opposes it. He wants an independent commission the legislature would help choose. Spokesman Steve Maviglio says the governor's measure could lead to a naive panel of citizens drawing political boundaries.

Steve Maviglio: It's sort of a poor man's American Idol. What you're doing is picking citizens with absolutely no idea what they're doing to do an extremely complex task.

Stoltze: Maviglio notes that Nunez' plan, unlike the governor's, includes reforming the way California draws its congressional districts. He also warns that Schwarzenegger's plan could lead to fewer African-Americans and Latinos in the state legislature. The governor denies this. Nunez, for his part, has denied that he crafted his plan to derail reform efforts. It must win two-thirds approval from the legislature to get on the ballot. Gary Toebben heads the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. He backs the governor's plan. But most of all, he wants reform that would lead to less partisan lawmaking in Sacramento.

Gary Toebben: The legislature the last two years has been in paralysis and unable to address many of the economic needs of our state.

Stoltze: Health care reform, the coming drought, transportation infrastructure needs; Toebben says all of these are urgent issues the state legislature has failed to address in its partisan gridlock.