Redistricting in California

REDISTRICTING IN CALIFORNIA….I voted against the redistricting initiative on the California ballot last year because I eventually concluded that it was just a little too cute in the way it tipped the balance of power in favor of Republicans. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger is apparently going to try again, this time proposing an easing of term limits as the bait:

Schwarzenegger said in an interview Thursday he does not believe term limits have improved Sacramento’s political culture….One idea already under consideration in the Legislature would double the number of years members could serve in the Assembly ? to 12 from six ? provided they not run for the Senate when their term is up. Senators’ maximum service could be extended to 12 years from eight.

….Schwarzenegger says that he wants to make California elections more competitive, and that a new method of redistricting would help. He is backing a measure by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) that would transfer political map-making powers to a panel of 11 citizens, chosen by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and judges, and take effect after the 2010 census.

This strikes me as a far superior alternative. I support term limits, but California’s are simply too short, producing a legislature with little independent expertise and far too much dependence on staff and lobbyists. Increasing term limits to 12 years would produce a better legislature while still preventing the career-itis that term limits are designed to eliminate.

Likewise, a little more buffering between the redistricting panel and the legislature is probably a good idea, as is the agreement to have this take effect after the next census in 2010. The major remaining detail is defining the limitations on how districts can be drawn, an area ripe for mischief. But this is a case where a legislative referendum is superior to a citizen initiative, since Lowenthal’s bill can make progress only if Democrats and Republicans both satisfy themselves that the rules are reasonably fair. There won’t be a repeat of last year’s attempt to unilaterally draft subtle rules that favor one party over the other ? with voters then told to take it or leave it.

There’s no telling if Lowenthal’s bill will go anywhere, since even the carrot of increased term limits might not be enough to get legislators to give up their redistricting power. But it’s a promising effort.