The Ugly Truth About New Election Maps

If you want to find yourself in a very small minority in California, say something bad about the new redistricting process under the citizens commission.

All of California's 36 largest newspapers endorsed the 2008 ballot initiative that established the commission, and they are still very on board.

Tellingly, the San Francisco Chronicle ran four pieces on redistricting in its Sunday editions -- all of them positive about redistricting.

So at the risk of being the loneliest man in California, here's an unvarnished truth: the new redistricting process, whatever its benefits, has left off worse off in the short run.

In two ways:

1. The redistricting commission has made this year's budget worse.

Without a commission, the legislature -- and specifically the Democratic majority in the legislature -- would have had a far easier time getting a budget that defends programs it likes, even with taxes.

How's that?

The legislature's leading Democrats, who drew the lines themselves in the previous process, would have been able to win at least a few Republican votes simply by threatening to draw district lines in ways that could have shortened their careers.

With that kind of leverage, Californians would at least have had a chance to vote on taxes or other new revenues to prevent cuts, as Democrats wanted.

Redistricting reform took that away. That means programs without special constitutional protections -- social services and higher education -- are likely to take another big cut in whatever budget emerges.

The state also will add to its debt. Are weaker university systems and higher debt a fair price to pay for having a more honest redistricting? It's a good question -- and one you won't read in the papers.

2. The redistricting commission could hurt California's influence in Washington.

Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant, makes a smart point in a story in Monday's LA Times. A high number of California Republican Congressmen have important committee chairmanships in Congress precisely because the previous redistricting, done by the legislature in 2000, was a nasty incumbent protection scheme.

But those protected incumbents were able to build seniority, and it is seniority that largely determines chairmanships in Congress.

The redistricting commission, which was not permitted to consider political factors such as where incumbents live, has drawn districts that put several incumbents together -- guaranteeing that some incumbents will be forced out of Congress. Thus diminishing the seniority of the delegation -- and California's influence in Congress.

This price isn't as high as the harm to the budget that is a byproduct of the redistricting commission. (California's delegation is weak, despite its seniority and its size, because its members don't do a good job of cooperating with each other, across regions and party lines). But it should give us pause.

The costs of non-political redistricting are significant.

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