Redistricting Reform and the Growing Influence of Independents in California's Politics

Beginning next year, California's redistricting process will no longer be controlled by state lawmakers but rather by an independent commission charged with redrawing the state's district maps.  The make-up of the commission reflects the growing influence of independents in the state's politics.  From this week's column at CAIVN:
California’s newly-seated Citizens Redistricting Commission, charged with redrawing the state’s Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts, is comprised of five Republicans, five Democrats and four Independents, two of whom have past ties to a third party.

The Commission was created with the passage of Proposition 11 in 2008, the Voters First Act, which was amended by the passage of Proposition 20 in November 2010 to empower the commission to redraw Congressional districts in addition to those of state offices.  The Voters First Act explicitly stipulates that the Commission consist of five members from each of the two largest political parties in the state, as well as four members who are either decline-to-state voters or members of a third party.  The very fact that the Commission must include four individuals who are not members of either major party reflects the growing influence of Independents in California’s politics . . .
The piece goes on to profile the four independents on the commission.  Last week, when the final members of the Commission were chosen Richard Winger expressed disappointment that "none is a third party member":
On December 15, the California Redistricting Commission finished determining who the 14 commissioners will be.  None of them is a member of any party other than the Democratic and Republican Parties.  There are five Democrats, five Republicans, and 4 independents.
It is the case that none of the members of the Commission is a third party member, however, it turns out that two of the decline-to-state-voters who have been chosen for it have past ties to third party organizations.  In answer to an essay question in the application for the Commission, Michelle R. DiGuilio-Matz stated that her status as a "decline-to-state-voter" is evidence of her impartiality:
My ability to be impartial is also reflected in my political affiliation of “Decline to State”. While I have been listed with formal political parties I have always voted in a manner to reflect the qualifications and expereince of the individual or issue on the ballot. I have found that, while organized political groups have certain commonalities and/or affiliations that may serve their consituents, I too often have seen strict party adherance coming at the expense of rational discussion and critical thinking. “Decline to State” reflects my desire to be as unbiased as possible in adhering to political positions and a willingness to be open minded in measuring the validity of various positions.
Asked what she meant by her statement regarding political parties, DiGuilio-Matz reponded that "she had been registered with the Democratic Party, switched to the Green Party, [and then] registered as Decline to State," over five years ago, according to a Report on Information Collected Concerning Applicant that can be found among her application materials for the seat on the Commission.

Another decline-to-state voter on the Commission has more recent ties to a third party.  M. Andre Parvenu's party registration status caused some amount of confusion during his application process.  When he first filled out the application, Parvenu originally stated that he was registered with the Peace and Freedom Party, however, an investigation by the state auditor showed that he was in fact registered as decline-to-state.  In an applicant review panel before the California Bureau of State Audits on September 9, 2010 (.pdf), Parvenu was asked about the confusion, and stated that he has previously associated with the Peace and Freedom Party.  According to the transcript of the meeting, Parvenu says, "I couldn't remember exactly if I had voted the last election as a Peace and Freedom Party member or not, so I didn't want any discrepancy to appear."  Asked to clarify, he continues, according to the transcript, "I have voted Peace and Freedom before.  But I, at this point, prefer to be nonpartisan . . . in terms of my political affiliation I want to remain – throughout this process I want to remain neutral."

Though none of the members of the Redistricting Commission is a third party member, at least two have a past association with a third party.  Given that this is California, it is not surprising to find that those parties are the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party.  Final note: A third decline-to-state voter on the Commission makes a strong case in favor of redistricting reform, or at least in favor of  taking redistricting power out of the hands of sitting partisan lawmakers.  Stanley Forbes writes in his application:
Legislative districts should represent communities of interests. This is inherently difficult in California given its regional and demographic diversity. As Mark Baldassare put it in his book, “California in the New Millennium”, California is in many ways four states with mutually suspicious ethnic communities all of which distrust the government. I believe these differences can be overcome provided the districts are based on communities of interest criteria: geographic, ethnic, economic and many others. As it stands now however, the primary community of interest is political party registration.

This effectively results in many single party legislative districts that may not represent communities of interest that reflect our common interests in solving the problems facing the state. With single party districts and typically low turnout primaries, party activists who are more ideologically, rather than consensus or compromise, driven exercise a disproportionate influence on who is nominated and therefore who is elected than the public at large in their districts. This results in a Legislature excessively polarized and gripped by legislative gridlock.

California cannot successfully address its problems and build on its opportunities without ridding the Legislature of this partisan paralysis. This paralysis can only be overcome by developing legislative districts that are based on community of interest criteria other than political parties so that compromise and consensus building can be returned to our political process. We must refocus on the goal of solving the peoples’ problems rather than exercising political oneupsmanship. California can have bright, robust future but not with the current method of creating Legislative districts.

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