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As President Obama and lame duck Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have learned the hard way, complete overhauls or transformations are rare in American politics. Incrementalism is the general rule, even here in California despite our reputation for exporting revolutionary ideas. Healthcare reform led by the late Senator Ted Kennedy in the 1990’s and Healthy Families started by Governor Gray Davis in the 2000’s are just two recent examples. The argument can be made — as it is often attributed to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel — that leaders should never let the transformational opportunities presented by a crisis go to waste. California has been in acute crisis mode for the better part of the last two decades as made stark in two new books, Remaking California and California Crackup. That’s a generation-load of opportunity gone to waste. Pundits Mark Paul and Joe Mathews close their reform-blueprint book, California Crackup, with a reminder of the scroll on display in the state capitol: “Bring Me Men to Match My Mountains!” It is call to arms for all reformers.
Often we Californians are presented with a Hobson’s Choice: Do we throw up our hands and simply hope for a Constitutional Convention to shake things up; or do we settle for something more modest and trudge onward? In just over a week and a half, Californians can do a bit of both. For the latter we can vote Yes on Prop. 20 and No on Prop. 27, and for the former we can take matters into our own hands and participate in the ongoing political reform efforts at www.ReThinkCali.com.
Arguably, the three-legged stool of political reform in California rests on open primaries, redistricting reform and term limits modification. The first was addressed with the passage of Prop. 14 this past June and the second can be reinforced with Prop. 20 on November 2nd. A version of the third stool was attempted with Prop. 93 in 2008 (aka The Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act) only to go down in defeat. But like Lazarus, expect it to rise again soon.
Thanks to SBXXX, a bi-partisan gerrymandering flimflam that took place after the 2000 Census, only one congressional seat changed hands in all those years. It should have been called the Incumbent Protection Act. The political mandarins created “safe seats” whereby the winner of the primary was all but ensured a victory in the general election. The passage of Open Primaries will change that soon but the lines need to be drawn to create more competitive districts — especially when redistricting is a once-in-a-decade occurrence.
Just two years ago, voters approved Proposition 11 which created an independent commission for drawing the boundaries for state legislative races — starting in 2011. On the ballot this November is Proposition 20, expanding their role to include the districts of members of Congress. As Bill Mundell points out in a recent Daily News piece, not only is Prop 20 drawing heavy fire from the foot soldiers of Big Poli, but there is also the cynical ploy of Proposition 27, a competing ballot measure that would reverse the will of the people and return all of the political cartography to — you guessed it — the Legislature.
Even with a new documentaries out about the dark arts of drawing political lines like Gerrymandering, redistricting isn’t the sexist issue for voters — especially those whose eyes are already glazed over by the onslaught of candidate and issue campaign ads and literature. The Sacramento Bee does an admirable job breaking it down but fair elections has none of the resonance of say legalizing marijuana or following how much is being spent the Governor’s race. A lot of column inches and cable commentary are spent on Mama Grizzlies and other supposed Meta political issues — perhaps because they are more easily understood. But good government advocates of all political stripes, “Goo-Goo’s” to borrow a term from the Progressive Era, keep on fighting.
Whether we can become the men and women to match California’s mountains is anyone’s guess. We certainly do not lack for Brobdingnagian drive, ambition and innovation The least we can do, however, is commit ourselves to fix a broken system, even by increments, through open primaries, redistricting reform and term limits modification. Hopefully we can find that tipping point for systemic change through a Constitutional Convention or seize upon the opportunities the manifold crises before us. In the meantime, let’s vote Yes on Prop. 20 and No on Prop. 27.