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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• Whither Redistricting? •

ANNE SOBLE

Some political theorists hoping to change California’s traditional partisan stalemate view redistricting as a means to create a new political landscape in the state. They indicated that good state government is precluded by districts dominated by party or family dynasties, where certain strong constituencies monopolized issues and resources. They wanted elections to become competitions between meaningful choices.
The theoretical goal is to make each district a microcosm of the state as a whole, and that calls for emulating the extraordinary diversity that makes California the rich tapestry that it is. If this occurred, California might become a showcase for meaningful practical implementation of one-person, one-vote, and this might result in renewed political activism and participation. Voter turnout might start to increase, instead of continue its annual downward spiral.
However, there are many special interests outside the proverbial ivory tower that do not want this to happen. They know they have to go through the motions demanded by the voters’ call for citizen redistricting, but they want to do this in a way that can adhere to the letter of the law and ignore its spirit. These interests want to preserve and protect the traditional power that they and their cohorts have enjoyed for decades, too often at the expense of the public at large.
Another facet also appears to have emerged. It is partly a political party byproduct, but other factors also contribute to a notion that people are indicating that they want other voters in their district to be like them. They don’t want to mix urban and farmland, and, in hushed undertones, they don’t want their current district’s ethnic makeup altered. But if California politics are to be state politics instead of parochial localism, that is exactly what needs to be done.
Nothing short of taking people out of their political comfort zones will force them to work on commonalities. They need to learn that different groups have varying agendas and, if consensus can be built among smaller aggregates, the potential to end the argumentative impotence that currently prevails in Sacramento increases. Voters may even be pleasantly surprised to learn that those in complicated district make-ups have more in common than is evident when each demographic has its own district. It might stop the “us-versus-them” mentality that now is so pervasive.
Will the redistricting end result bring about major change or reinforce the status quo? We have to wait a few weeks longer than was first announced in order to get a look at the final district maps. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission will release its visualization proposals, or possible district options, at the end of the month. We won’t know until July 28 whether these visualizations are visionary and create the means to implement a vision of energized and innovative state politics.

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