Governor’s Plan to Redraw the Political Map

Governor’s Plan to Redraw the Political Map

Drawing on more effective representation

San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Page B-9

By California State Senator Chuck Poochigian

The once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts has resurfaced
now that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has set his sights on reforming
the otherwise lackluster issue of redistricting. I join the governor
and many of my colleagues in support of removing this responsibility
from the Legislature and assigning it to an independent body, and I
have co-authored an amendment to do so.

Woven through virtually every poll in recent years gauging
Californians’ view of their Legislature is a broad thread of
mistrust. The public at large is cynical of the Legislature’s ability
to function effectively, pass a balanced budget and focus on necessary,
sensible legislation. Responsibly drawn legislative districts should
help to improve both perception and reality regarding the political

State and federal district maps were put in place with legislative
approval in 2001. They effectively preserve legislative majorities in
the Senate, Assembly and Congress and virtually assure re-election
of nearly all incumbents. Although equally apportioned numerically,
the maps are drawn by computers to divide the state’s cities, counties
and communities into a confusing labyrinth with a goal of establishing
district lines with a partisan- voter base. This essentially protects
a given incumbent or political party from competition in an effort
to preserve the status quo.

Apart from this obvious intent, the maps defy logic. For example,
the 14th Senate District I represent encompasses all or parts of six
counties. However, the lines carefully remove portions of Fresno and
skirt around the more populous areas of Modesto, Manteca, Tracy and
Stockton. The district overlaps portions of eight different Assembly
districts and five congressional districts. This not only makes it
more cumbersome to coordinate efforts as a regional delegation, but
also confuses constituents and local government officials attempting
to understand who represents their community and their interests.

Fortunately, in my case, many of the issues and demographics of the
current 14th Senate District are similar to those of the district which
I served previously, so the transition has been smooth. Nevertheless,
the overarching system of mapping legislative districts needs to
be changed.

Many believe the goal of reforming our state’s redistricting process
is to make elections fairer, or to skew elections toward one political
party or another. The primary goal of redistricting should be to ensure
that the voters have effective representation. Efficient government
starts with citizens having a clear understanding of who represents
them. Voters should choose their representatives; politicians should
not choose their constituents.

Independent redistricting systems similar to those being proposed
are less subject to political influences and have worked well for
California in the past. In 1992, after Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the
reapportionment plans submitted to him, a three-member committee of
judges comprised of “special masters” was appointed to draft a new
redistricting plan, in accordance with rational guidelines and with
public input. Their plan was subsequently approved by the California
Supreme Court, with only minor changes made necessary by prior court

The new districts were coherent, consistent and served the state
for nine years. Each Senate district was divided into two Assembly
districts. The court affirmed that this “nesting” of districts made
representation more “comprehensible to the electorate, and [simplified]
the task of administering elections…”

Under the current system, multiple legislators potentially competing
for higher office in a given Senate or congressional district may
be more prone to political infighting and posturing than to district
service. Crowding numerous Assembly districts into one Senate district
can result in incumbent conduct and decision-making that is motivated
by a desire to obtain political advantage over a neighboring legislator
rather than being focused on the interests of constituents. Nesting of
districts reduces those tendencies, promoting discipline and greater
emphasis on cooperative district representation. To the degree
possible, nesting of districts should be deemed a priority.

Assigning the duty of drawing legislative district lines to a panel of
highly respected retired judges, as some of my colleagues and I have
proposed, is a far better alternative than the current politically
charged process. The ultimate goal of redistricting reform should be
to ensure a more personal connection between the residents of every
community and those elected to serve them.

California State Senator Chuck Poochigian (Republican – Fresno), is
a member of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional
Amendments Committee and co-author of a constitutional amendment on
redistricting reform.