This is inside politics that matters. For years, the boundaries of California’s Assembly and state Senate districts were drawn up, every 10 years, by the assemblymembers and senators themselves. That scheme had predictable results: The elected officials created districts that were favorable to themselves and their parties. Essentially, they were able to choose their own voters. And so we get districts which are “solidly Democratic” or “solidly Republican,” making political compromise unnecessary and gridlock inevitable.
Two years ago, California voters did away with that system. With 2008’s Proposition 11, voters approved the creation of an independent citizens commission to take over the drawing of legislative districts. (For more on this, see Prop. 27 endorsement below.)
Prop. 20 expands that commission’s mandate, empowering it to also draw U.S. congressional districts. It’s a good idea for the same reason Prop. 11 was a good idea: Many elected officials in Sacramento today hope to move on to jobs in D.C. someday, and they have their eyes on that prize when they draw congressional districts.
Majority Rules on Budget
In some ways, this is the most important proposition on the November ballot. California’s compound fracture of a system currently requires the approval of two-thirds of both legislative houses to pass a budget, a threshold shared only by the great states of Arkansas and Rhode Island (the other 47 require simple majorities).
The result, here in the eighth largest economy in the world, is budgets that are almost always late, a fixed system of minority rule with a legacy of intense gerrymandering to maintain it, suspended services, wasted millions on needlessly high interest payments, and a credit rating nestled snugly between that of the Czech Republic and Greece.
Opponents—mainly alcohol and tobacco interests and Chambers of Commerce—say that if passed, Prop. 25 will allow lawmakers to raise taxes with only a majority vote. That’s false. State law will continue to require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes. What Prop. 25 will do is set the conditions for a realistic public conversation about spending and revenue in California to take place—and that is a necessary first step to recovery.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which years ago crippled our state by slipping an exemption for commercial property transfers into Prop. 13 (thus making sure that businesses pay ever-lower taxes on their properties by simply shifting them from entity to entity as inflation grows) is sponsoring this initiative. If it passes, its primary funders, Chevron and Occidental, as well as MillerCoors and Anhueser-Busch, will get their way, as all levels of government, from city councils to the state Legislature, will have to achieve two-thirds vote thr esholds to raise any fee for any activity or any levy for violating any law.
That includes environmental law, which is where this prop got its nickname: The Polluter Protection Act. This proposition is corporate cynicism at its worst.
‘Incumbent Protection Act’
The sponsors of this measure, a group of Democratic incumbents (many of whom we generally support) have named it the Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act. Straight-faced, they claim its intent is to save money, because the state cannot afford to pay a small citizens commission to handle the chore of drawing legislative districts. Its true intent is to make it easier for them to keep their jobs.
Prop. 27 would repeal the voter-approved Proposition 11, which authorized the creation of the independent redistricting commission, and return that responsibility to the Legislature itself, where it would no doubt result in more gerrymandering and more gridlock.
Voters in south Santa Clara County have a stake in the outcome of this decision. In the last round of redistricting, parts of Saratoga, Los Gatos, San Jose and Gilroy were included in a Senate district that stretches down to Santa Maria, which is closer to Santa Barbara than to San Jose. Because the southern part of that district is more densely populated, nobody from our part of California will ever win that seat.
A citizens commission will almost certainly redraw this district more fairly. If Prop. 27 passes, they will not get the chance to do that.