Last February in this space I praised California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for sponsoring an initiative to take redistricting away from the legislators and give that responsibility to an independent commission. I knew he would have heavy opposition from the legislators and from the state’s Congressional delegation. But I was fairly sanguine that the public would pass it comfortably. After all, politicians are not the most trusted group around. Remember the popularity of Term Limits? Besides, the conflict of interest in letting legislators choose their constituents – when it is supposed to be the other way around – is just too blatant to be defended.
Wrong !!! Apparently I was just flat wrong.
Things seemed to be OK when a poll was taken last April. It showed that 73% saw that conflict of interest and 69% favored an independent commission. But by mid-September the numbers had reversed. Most polls showed only about a third of the voters supporting the measure with nearly half (46%) opposing it.
We know that Schwarzenegger himself has suffered a massive drop in popularity. Furthermore, mindless partisanship is alive and well in places other that Washington, DC. Many Democrats oppose it, apparently because a Republican proposed it. They make brooding references to the Mid-decade redistricting in Texas, though there is little evidence that Schwarzenegger has anything like that in mind. In fact, many Republican office holders oppose it too.
Yet Gray Davis, the governor whom Schwarzenegger ousted, has endorsed it as has former California Congressman and Bill Clinton Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta. It kinda makes you scratch your head.
One observer suggested the poll numbers reflect weariness on the part of California voters: one election too many in a series of almost non-stop elections, special elections and recalls.
Still, this is a golden opportunity to drive a stake through the shameful and hoary American tradition of gerrymandering. Coming from the nation’s largest state, it could reverberate across the land. That would be the most significant and best reform we’ve seen since women got the vote.
If it goes down to defeat, it may take that hope with it. It is probably true that people get the kind of government they deserve. I’d like to think we deserve better than what we’ve got and that we will seize this opportunity to grab it.