CA: Bipartisan Bias and Multi-Partisan Redistricting

The redistricting process is one of the primary means by which Democratic and Republican lawmakers rig our electoral system to benefit sitting officials and the ruling parties.  With two voter initiatives in 2008 and 2010, Californians took the process out of their hands by creating an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to implement the process.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Commission is the fact that it is multi-partisan in character.  The body has fourteen members, and the law stipulates that it must have five Democrats, five Republicans and four members who are not affiliated with either of the major parties.  (Currently, the Commission has four decline-to-state voters, a number of whom have past ties to third party organizations, see this post for background.)  The Commission is charged with drawing up the boundaries for the state's Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts, and, by law, it must do so in without any consideration of partisan affiliation, i.e. in a non-partisan manner.  From this week's column at CAIVN:
The difficulty of securing an explicitly non-partisan approach even in a reformed redistricting process is clear in the very language used to talk about the Commission.  In their everyday speech, Democrats and Republicans often equate bipartisanship with non-partisanship, despite the fact that a bipartisan process literally cannot be non-partisan since, by definition, it excludes Independents and third party supporters.  Indeed, the Commission’s multi-partisan character implicitly acknowledges the fact that a bipartisan body cannot be a non-partisan body.  Interestingly, however, the fact that the Commission has been charged with redistricting the state along non-partisan lines appears to have created the impression in the minds of some that it is a bipartisan body.

A KQED broadcast discussing the new redistricting process described Proposition 11 in the following manner:
The measure took the drawing of legislative districts out of the hands of lawmakers, and instead put it into the hands of a bipartisan organization called the Citizens Redistricting Commission [emphasis added].
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle considered the effects the process might have on various communities, stating:
Depending on how the bipartisan commission draws the maps, San Francisco's Asian American community could see its power diminished [emphasis added].  
Even the Commissioners themselves have revealed this bias in discussing the body’s work!  In an article for the Contra Costa Times, one of the Republican members of Commission, Vince Barabba, has been quoted saying:
 Everything that is done is going to be done in public and under the bipartisan commission's direction [emphasis added].
The bipolar ideology that sustains the two-party system has so warped our politics that Independents are unconsciously excluded from discussions of a public commission in which they have been explicitly included, ironically, in order to counteract the most pernicious effects of two-party politics. The two-party state is, first and foremost, a state of mind.


Pete Healey said...

Your last statement is exactly right. The "bipartisan ideology" is a state of mind above all else. I have encountered it so often and in so many contexts that it's impossible to ignore. I've seen evidence of this "bipartisanship" inside the Green Party!

Randy Miller said...

Great post Damon. It's as if they can only view the subset D and the subset R and the union of D|R. Love the post, it just took me until today to say so.

d.eris said...

Thanks Randy.

And Pete, I'd be interested to hear about the bipartisan bias in the Green party. That really goes to show how ingrained it is in our language.