Running For Office, But Where?

Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly find themselves running in circles these days instead of for office. Rather than begin campaigns as soon as possible, they must wait to see the locations of the newly organized districts and determine how well the geographical areas of previous service match. This development may be particularly challenging for incumbents, who could find much of their previous districts somewhere else!

This political version of "musical chairs" arises as a result of the Voters FIRST initiative, a 2008 ballot proposition.

The new law places responsibility for the creation of state legislative district boundaries in the hands of a 14-member independent citizens' commission. The voters added reorganization of Congressional districts to the commission's responsibilities when they passed Proposition 20, the Voters FIRST act for Congress, this past November.

Until now, the state legislature has been responsible for organization of the districts. Although each had to have approximately the same population, the legislature could arrange districts in such a way that incumbents or future nominees from their parties were virtually guaranteed re-election. Both parties joined in this exercise, which loaded districts with partisan majorities of one party or the other.

And it worked. In the 2010 elections, for example, of the 153 seats up for election (80 Assembly, 20 State Senate, 53 House of Representatives), only one changed hands. 
But no more. The new commission will have until August 15, 2011 to draw up all the district maps, which will be organized by geography without regard to political convenience or favoritism. That means the days of 200 mile-long districts or other inkblot-looking arrangements will be gone. Because would be candidates won't know the boundaries until August 15, it won't make any sense to campaign. As a result, the campaign window will shrink by several months.

No doubt, campaign consultants will cry in their spilled milk (or alcoholic substitute!) over the loss of work. On the other hand, the voters will probably breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the shortened campaign season will intrude that much less into their lives. Regardless, the 2012 elections in California will take place with a new set of rules, and may deliver a few surprises along the way.

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