Redistricting initiative gains ground 'slowly' in Calif.

The grassroots movement to depoliticize redistricting in California is gaining momentum in the wake of the elections earlier this month, in which none of the state’s 53 congressional seats switched party hands.

The critical question is whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will throw his weight behind the effort, being spearheaded by many of the same activists who put the 2003 recall on the ballot and helped get Schwarzenegger elected.

“This is something that if the governor wants to do it, he’s going to have to lead it,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
The grassroots movement to depoliticize redistricting in California is gaining momentum in the wake of the elections earlier this month, in which none of the state’s 53 congressional seats switched party hands.

The critical question is whether Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will throw his weight behind the effort, being spearheaded by many of the same activists who put the 2003 recall on the ballot and helped get Schwarzenegger elected.

“This is something that if the governor wants to do it, he’s going to have to lead it,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).


patrick g. ryan
Rep. Darrell Issa

Nunes, with California GOP Reps. Darrell Issa and Bill Thomas, has called for revamping the redistricting process, which slices cities and counties into multiple congressional and state legislative districts and, critics say, lets politicians choose their constituents instead of giving constituents the power to choose their politicians.

Nunes, Issa and Thomas were three of the earliest supporters of the recall in the 20-member California Republican delegation. Nunes said: “I’m not interested in leading a crusade … because it’s a task that’s going to take lots of money.”

The congressman, who won reelection Nov. 2 to a second term with 74 percent of the vote, added that if Schwarzenegger were to endorse a redistricting proposal it would
save supporters considerable money.

For now, reformers have yet to settle on a final plan. An effort to put a redistricting-reform initiative on the ballot this year failed. That effort was led by longtime crusader Ted Costa, who played a central role in the anti-tax campaign of the late 1970s and led the recall effort.

The reform initiative backed by Costa’s group, People’s Advocate Inc., calls for a panel of retired judges, rather than the state Legislature, to redraw district lines for congressional, state Senate and state Assembly seats every 10 years.

The initiative also states that political boundaries should avoid dividing municipalities into separate districts. Nunes has noted that his hometown of Fresno, for example, is represented by four members of Congress. Nunes and other reform backers said this sort of redistricting doesn’t make sense and waters down neighborhoods’ influence in Washington and Sacramento. Some supporters of the status quo have countered that cities are best-served when more than one House member represents them.

The governor, like many California politicians, has said he supports redistricting reform but has not come out for any specific proposals.

Costa said yesterday that he would be meeting with representatives from the governor’s office yesterday afternoon. So far, Costa said, he has not discussed redistricting reform with Schwarzenegger or any of his aides.

A Republican consultant in California said two factors might make Schwarzenegger more eager to get involved in the reform effort: the recent elections and the $5 billion-$15 billion budget deficit that Californians face heading into 2005.

keri rasmussen
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

While Schwarzenegger convinced voters to support his position on 10 of 14 initiatives that appeared on the ballot Nov. 2 — including a high-profile measure curbing Indian casinos — he failed to get more Republicans elected to the state Legislature.

What’s more, the consultant said, a former budget adviser to the governor has said that the governor would submit a budget in January that does not include any tax increases — implying that it would feature spending cuts likely to antagonize Democrats.

The governor could use the threat of redistricting reform to persuade Democrats to set aside their opposition to his budget, which most everyone in California agrees is Schwarzenegger’s No. 1 priority. “If I were advising the governor,” the consultant said, “I’d say use this redistricting initiative as a leveraging tool.”

California Democrats in Congress have had little, if anything, to say about redistricting reform. Outgoing Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Calif.) has voiced support for reform, one Republican source said. Dooley was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the congresswoman was “aware of” the reform movement but was not actively involved.

Costa dismissed accusations that the redistricting-reform effort was a Republican ploy. He asserted that Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, is a leading reform opponent. Referring to elected officials, Costa said: “They need to know the people back home are the boss.”

A spokeswoman for Dreier did not return a call seeking comment.

Costa attributed the growing sense of urgency among Californians surrounding redistricting reform to the “Ken and John Show,” a radio program in Southern California that reaches, he said, a million listeners daily and has stirred up some anti-incumbent sentiment.

Costa also said that in two weeks he would be relaunching his campaign to put a reform initiative on the ballot by June 2006; getting it on the ballot will require nearly 600,000 valid signatures. The governor can call a special election before then if he chooses.