It was supposed to be our salvation. In 1792, the first redistricting process in the United States, Eldridge Gerry figured out how to draw lines to favor his political party. One of his opponents said the districts looked like a salamander. Another said “that is not a salamander, it’s a Gerrymander. And a great political tradition in the United States was born.
The solution? A citizen commission, free from bias, drawing the lines, no politics, no partisanship. It didn’t work out that way here in California. What went wrong?
I supported the idea in the 1990’s, thinking it could work. Then I went through a redistricting process. Redistricting is the most political process there is. Jobs, careers, and power are at stake. I watched as Democrats in the Legislature erased and drew lines in their districts on their desks during session. They were intensely interested in the outcome. David Dreier and Ed Royce lived in Sacramento for a time while the lines were being drawn. Mike Briggs sold his vote on a tax increase for the Congressional seat that he thought would be his, and turned out to belong to Devin Nunez. Republicans in Congress cut a deal with Democrats in the Legislature for a status quo redistricting which was intended to shaft Republicans in the Legislature and Democrats in Congress. It did, a little bit, but in the end, not much changed. People whined about how political process was, and it was just politicians drawing lines for politicians.
But, in the scope of things, politicians are accountable to voters, commissioners are not. Politicians do politics full time, commissioners do not. After having gone through the process, I came to the conclusion that a commission would be the worst idea, and it would destroy Republicans. It would allow the politicians to draw partisan lines, without accountability. It would allow the staff of the commission, which would be appointed by either a Democrat Secretary of State or a Democrat Governor, to control the process. The commissioners would have no idea what was going on.
The other problem is that when Democrats step in to these sorts of “nonpartisan” positions, they become intensely partisan, and prove it by screwing Republicans. Republicans who step these sorts of positions become intensely nonpartisan, and prove it by screwing Republicans. Compare Bill Jones to Kevin Shelley as Secretary of State. Bill Jones, when faced with true accusations of the voter fraud that was used to defeat Bob Dornan, and elect Loretta Sanchez, went out of his way to discount Dornan’s claims of fraud, saying there was no proof. Three years later, the person who committed the fraud was convicted of felonies related to the fraudulent voter registration drive in Dornan’s district. By that time, it was too late. Shelley, when given “Help America Vote Act” money by Republicans in Congress to make voting more fair, gave the money to Democrat political operatives to shaft Republicans in California. Shelley lost his job over his illegal behavior. In both cases, Republicans got the short end of the “nonpartisan” stick.
Just as they are with the Redistricting Commission. I said this would happen in 2006, when the idea was proposed. I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. This would be the only thing that would save Republicans in California. I contended then (and contend now) that the only thing that will save Republicans in California is hard work, but I was told by party leaders to sit down and shut up. I should have been more insistent, but I had no dog in that hunt. If that was what they wanted, I would not oppose them. I made a mistake, and now we are reaping the results of that foolishness. I knew better, having been through a redistricting. I saw how personal it was, how intensely interested the politicians were in the outcomes. They would be just as interested in a commission’s work, only then they would be behind the scenes with the Commissioners as their puppets, and the Republicans on the Commission would never know what hit them. They would be so interested in “doing their job” that they would never see the train coming at Republican officeholders in the state, put on the track by Democrats behind the scenes.
And now it has happened, and we are now left on the sidelines to whine about the outcome of a process we created. The Democrats will, quite rightly, say this was what the Republicans wanted. Why are the Republican so upset, Democrats will say? Republicans on the Commission voted for this, so what is the problem? Republican party leaders will try to make excuses about why it went bad, but it was in the cards. The commission was a bad idea, and any one who had actually watched 240 years of American history could have foreseen it. Oh well, those guys are smarter than me, what can I say?