Tom Friedman Loves the Proven Results of Unproven Prop 11

In 2008, for some reason the voters of the state of California approved Prop 11, a measure that takes away redistricting from the Legislature and gives it to an independent commission. Tom Friedman, in a column from a few days ago that greatly pissed off the Tea Partiers on all sorts of fronts, wrote that the “radical center” needs to emulate this everywhere.  

First, let every state emulate California’s recent grass-roots initiative that took away the power to design state electoral districts from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent, politically neutral, Citizens Redistricting Commission. It will go to work after the 2010 census and reshape California’s state legislative districts for the coming elections. Henceforth, districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican – so more of them will be competitive, so more candidates will only be electable if they appeal to the center, not just cater to one party. (There is a movement pressing for the same independent commission to be given the power to redraw Congressional districts.) (NYT)

So, let’s go over the results so far of that measure.  There’s a fancy (for 2006) website. It’s come up with a pool of “qualified” applicants that are disproportionately white, male Republicans. And oh right, it’s massively over budget and won’t look at a map for another year.  Nice that they convinced the legislative analyst to score it on the cheap, but this will end up being about ten times as expensive as the old process. Yay for that, right Tom Friedman.

But the more glaring omission in Friedman’s logic is the absence of any real facts to back up the naked assertion that “districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican.” I call Bullshit.

It is important to note that competitive elections are far from the primary goal of the commission. Communities of interest, county lines, and, of course, Voting Rights Act concerns come far ahead of competitiveness.  Let’s look at California regionally, rather than district by district, and then apply the Prop 11 standards.  

The Bay Area is overwhelmingly Democratic, no matter how you slice or dice it up.  The only way you break one party rule here is to mix in some Central Valley voters, but that would be breaking the communities of interest rule, and so, we’re back at districts that will be most definitely “automatically Democratic.” The same is true for much of LA County. Yes you could add some upland votes to more Democratic districts, but you’d be running afoul of higher priority redistricting guidelines.  

Other parts of the state, such as the Central Valley and Orange County, face the same issue, only with Republicans holding most of the seats.  You’d have to grab different communities of interest to really make the elections competitive. Now, you could actually argue that you could break up the Democratic core of Santa Ana to make the rest of the OC competitive, but there you would probably begin to discuss Voting Rights Act issues.  The Central Valley already produces Friedman’s radical moderates, and I think the process of blue-ing the Central Valley continues for some time. But over the next 10-20 years, there will continue to be a steady stream of moderates emerging.

The rest of the state is basically the same.  The underlying issue that Friedman totally ignores is that we have become highly self-sorted.  We have chosen where we live in such a way that there is a dominant political leaning in most of our communities.  You can’t just wipe that away by playing with the maps anymore. Perhaps 40 years ago you could draw a map that focuses on competitiveness, but, at least in California, those days are gone.

Instead, we’ll get minor alterations that will change the shape of the districts, but not the political leanings.  Maybe we’ll net five or six competitive districts, but it is hardly the big change that Friedman suggests. But don’t expect the facts in California to change the words in Friedman’s New York Times columns, that might involve him questioning just how large his “radical center” really is.

7 thoughts on “Tom Friedman Loves the Proven Results of Unproven Prop 11”

  1. I agree.  I believe that redistrictung will make little difference.  A reform that could have a real impact would be Majority Rule.

    Right now, because of supermajoriy requirements the parties vote en masse.  You can’t hold your own representative accountable because they are voting like every other member of their party.  And at the end of the process 5 people decide the important matters. Four of those 5, you or I never got a chance to vote for and yet they decide our fate.

    With Majority Rule, there are many potential coalitions that could get a majority. Therefore my representative has more discretion and flexibility on voting, and I can better guage their individual performance.

    It is no panacea, but it would have a much greater impact than redistricting is likely to have.

  2. I applied for the commission and was found to be quailfied.  I am now invited to file the second round application.  The catch there is that I must also obtain three “letters of reference” from other folks.  This is how the politicos will be able to stack the commission with hacks.  Remember that ultimately the politicians get to strike names from the panel submitted to them by the Auditor.  Now all the politicians have to do is look to see who is supporting the individual applicant so that they will know who to appoint.  Leave it to California to screw up even the most basic reform and make it a non-reform.

  3. Anyone who thinks that politics don’t drive the reapportionment process has never been involved with the reapportionment process.  It is all politics all the time.  There is a perverse bi-partisanship about it: Republicans are just as bad about it as Democrats.  No one has clean hands on this.

    Prop 11 send this process to a group that has slightly cleaner hands.  It by no means suggests that seats in San Francisco will suddenly become competitive.  We have self-sorted.  But there are parts of the state where Prop 11 will make a real difference.

    More reform is needed.  In particular, 2/3 vote to pass a budget is outragous and must be repealed.  I think that the open primary will be helpful.  Prop 15 is pointed in the right direction, but I am a little skeptical about it (7500 donation @ $5 each to qualify?).

  4. I too applied and was deemed qualified for the commission and was asked to complete the next applicaton.  I decided at that point they had the cart before the horse.  As a white, male, Democrat, I figured my odds of being selected as 1 in 10,000 (4 Dems, probably 2 males, probably one of color).  But to even get to that point of 1:10,000, I needed to complete an application which is at least 15 pages long, disclosing everyone I gave $250 or more to in the last 2 years, not just political, but social, charitable, professional, etc.

    Then write 5 500 word essays, disclose the names, addresses, employers, and relationship status of every living family member and in laws.  Ask 3 friends to write letters of recommendation, allow them to release all this information and waive my privacy rights.  I got a DOD secret clearance with less effort.

    And some bureaucrat has to review all this information from thousands of people.  Why don’t they reduce the universe to a smaller size before requiring applicants to go through all this work.

    The way the process is going, there will be 12 people with no history of political involvement trying to deal with the intricacies of reapportionment.  In the end, all of the work will be done by staff and consultants, with this group acting as a rubber stamp.  I resigned from the effort.

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