(originally published at Fox & Hounds Daily)
News item: Charles T. Munger Jr. -- who spent $14 million backing campaigns to establish the citizens redistricting commission -- said last week that he considers himself "a bit of a proud father" now that the commission has done its work.
Reaction: Charlie, please adopt me.
Because, Dad (if I may), I can guarantee you this much. If you give me $14 million, I can make you at least as proud as the redistricting commission made you.
Which is to say: I can do every bit as much for improving governance in California as the redistricting commission has done.
Heck, I'll do every bit as much for half what redistricting cost you. For $7 million, we have a deal.
It's an easy guarantee to make, because the redistricting commission is, at best, irrelevant when it comes to addressing the state's needs for political and budget reform.
That's not the commission's fault. For all the controversy and referendum and accusations around the commission, its members, from what I can tell, did the best they could do at reconciling the conflicting goals of impartiality and protection of voting rights.
But the commission didn't change the game because it couldn't. Despite campaign promises about greater political competition, the commission's maps seem to have made no discernible impact on political competition. Because it's not possible because of California's political geography (people live with people who vote like them) and its small legislature, with only 120 representatives for a population of nearly 38 million. There was simply no way for the commission to draw lines to juice competition.
If anything, the redistricting process may blunt the impact of the top-two primary, by making ever districts so slightly more competitive. Just competitive enough to make sure that two candidates of the same party won't advance to the general election (which would create competition for votes of independents and the other party) - thus negating the primary moderating mechanism of the top-two system.
Now Charlie - I mean "Pop" -- why this makes you proud isn't clear. But they say love is blind.
And there's plenty of blind love when it comes to the redistricting commission - and not just from its "father." Good government groups keep talking about it as an accomplishment and advance.
This is understandable, given the hunger for "positive" news in the bleak California governance news. But it's also distracting - and potentially damaging.
The distraction of redistricting refers to all the time and money it's taken away from bigger changes - a new election system that uses proportional representation, an elimination of constitutional tax and spending rules, initiative reform - that would change California's governing reality. All the time spent on redistricting has consumed good government attention as the current system melts down - leading to disinvestment in public higher education, a shorter school year, and historic cuts in services, without any compensating tax or economic relief during a bad economy.
The potential damage of redistricting comes from the juxtaposition of this diminished California - and the celebration of redistricting as a triumph by elites. One wonders why anyone would believe good government groups when they come to the ballot with future reforms - on the heels of a redistricting victory that doesn't seem to have done much good.