California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have had a good idea but he could not convince his voters of that. Neither could the reformers in Ohio. Both states soundly stamped out ballot measures that would have taken redistricting away from the self-interested legislators. They gave it, instead, to independent commissions who could concentrate on equally sized, compact and contiguous districts without regard to partisan manipulations.
What went wrong?
Of course Schwarzenegger’s precipitous decline in popularity had something to do with it in California as did other “local” factors. But what of Ohio? Well it appears that Republicans beat it there by using the same arguments Democrats used in California.
Those arguments were that people should not give up “their” right to redraw lines by “their” elected representatives in favor or turning it over to a nameless group over which they would have no control. Never mind that people have virtually no say whatsoever in the present process. They bought the line: “Don’t let ‘em take it away.”
Well it does absolutely no good to say, as former House member Mo Udall once cracked: “The voters have spoken, damn them.” Instead those of us who think redistricting reform is vitally important need to figure out a better way to explain it to the public. It has been my experience that using political science arguments just doesn’t work. Instead one needs to make the issue very relevant to the voter – as, frankly, did the opponents of redistricting reform. In short, what’s in it for Joe Blow?
A modest proposal? The theme should be: redistricting now amounts to the politicians picking their constituents. It is supposed to be the other way around. You should pick your representative.
Use that as the basis for explaining the value of redistricting reform. It tells voters that they are being abused; that they can stop it and that they can regain the upper hand.
Oh, and it has one added virtue. It is true.