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Schwarzenegger and Gerrymandering
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I mentioned Schwarzenegger's State of the State speech the other day, and one of his proposals was to reform the way district lines are drawn in California:

And fourth, we must make California's elections democratic once again.

When I was studying to take my citizenship test, I learned about gerrymandering and how politicians changed the boundaries of voting areas to protect themselves. For a long time I thought that was something that happened way back in the 1800's, but the practice is still alive and well today.

Here's a telling statistic: 153 of California's congressional and legislative seats were up in the last election and not one - I repeat - not one changed parties.

What kind of democracy is that?

I will propose that an independent panel of retired judges-not politicians-determine California's legislative and congressional districts.

They can be drawn fair and honest, district lines that make politicians of both parties accountable to the people.

The current system is rigged to benefit the interests of those in office . . . not the interests of those who put them there. And we must reform it.

Blogger Kevin Drum, a California resident, intially had this to say:

So why am I depressed? Because the insanely partisan atmosphere of contemporary American politics means I can't support this proposal even though I think it would be good for the state. After watching Texas Republicans ram through a brutally gerrymandered mid-decade redistricting that gained the Republican party four congressional seats in the 2004 election, how stupid would a California Democrat have to be to agree to meekly support a goo-goo proposal that would have the effect of giving Republicans more seats in yet another state? Guys like Tom DeLay and Hugh Hewitt would be guffawing in their beers for days about our terminal naivete if we went along with this. Raw power would be their ally in red states and appeals to progressive idealism would be their ally in the blue states. That's quite a combination.

In other words, it's a great idea. It's fair. It's decent. And it would end the absurdity of undemocratic, inkblot-shaped, computer-generated districts custom designed to lock them in for a particular party. But it might lose seats for Dems in California, so screw it. Gee, what a great response.

Drum suggests that if there's going to be reform, it'll need to be on the national level.

Today, though, Peter Beinart suggests that Democrats embrace the idea:

Democrats across the country should jump on the Schwarzenegger bandwagon, demanding that their states also take redistricting away from the state legislatures that deny voters a real choice over who represents them. In a state like Florida, where the GOP has absurdly gerrymandered to ensure a mass of safe Republican seats, such a change could bring real Democratic gains and perhaps even help put control of the House back in play. More importantly, it would reinvigorate American democracy. Nothing would make our politics more responsive, more dynamic, and more fun than hundreds of contested congressional elections, all over the country.

It shouldn't just be Democrats who endorse it, but everyone, from Republicans to Independents to Greens to whoever. It's the right thing to do.

Of course, Drum doesn't support it because in this case doing the right thing is possibly disadvantageous to his party and advantageous to his opposing party. Of course, if people only supported good policy and did the right thing when it benefitted them, then very little of it would go on (and amazingly that's the case).

I would actually doubt that Texan Republicans would be shamed into following suit, and Beinart most likely overstates the effect of Dems being able to capitalize on being on the high ground. But the endless strategizing is one of the reasons politics are so g-damned screwed up in the first place. People of either party shouldn't support Schwarzenegger's proposal either because it hurts them or helps them, but because it is a great idea and because it is the right thing to do.

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