Wow! Big news this morning on the CA redistricting front: California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez is now proposing that independent redistricting apply to Congressional as well as State Legislative districts. This puts Nuñez at odds with Speaker Pelosi, who has opposed independent redistricting for California House districts.
Is this good for Democrats? Bad for Democrats? Follow me behind the fold…
First… there’s no question that state legislators drawing their own districts presents a conflict of interest. Whether or not you believe that independent redistricting would create many more “competitive” districts (and I’m skeptical), it’s clear that our state’s lines were not drawn to represent communities, but to protect incumbents. Period.
Does the same apply to Congressional districts? Well, under our current system, Congressmembers do not draw their own lines; the State Legislature does that. But party collusion meant that protecting incumbents still took first priority in 2000. Take a look at our Congressional districts and you’ll see what I mean.
So from that standpoint, it makes sense to hand Congressional redistricting over to an independent body as well.
But now things get complicated.
The question Pelosi raises – and it’s a fair one – is whether enacting this reform solely in California gives Republicans too great a political advantage. Won’t we lose good Democrats while Texas keeps its Republicans in power?
Maybe, but I’m not so sure. At this point it’s important to clarify the difference between protecting incumbents and boosting majority seats. The latter is what Tom DeLay did in 2003 in Texas… that is, instead of drawing districts around all the incumbents to protect their seats, DeLay redrew the map to add Republican seats by consolidating (and therefore eliminating) Democratic seats. This was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States – in large part because it amounted to racially-based gerrymandering.
But that is not what happened in California in 2000. After the last redistricting, the number of California’s majority Republican and majority Democratic districts remained the same. All the seats were made safer but no new Democratic seats were created. The motive was to decrease competition, not to engineer partisan gain.
So… if Texas allowed an independent panel to redraw their Congressional district maps, it would mean an almost certain gain for Democrats. In California, however, an independent map could hypothetically benefit either side. Who stood to gain the most would come down to which party was best able to compete in any newly competitive districts.
In fact, if we’d had more competitive Congressional districts in California last November, Democrats could very well have picked up more seats in our state. Instead, our “safe” seats map shielded our Republicans from their party’s most disastrous election in recent history.
So Pelosi is correct that independent redistricting should be applied to all states – BUT I disagree with her assessment that applying it only to California would endanger our Congressional majority. Competitive seats are only a threat if we are afraid to fight for them. If we fight and win, competition will strengthen our party – and give voters greater confidence in the process. I salute Nuñez’s stand and urge Speaker Pelosi to back down from her opposition.