California Democracy, Soviet-Style
Jude Wanniski
April 6, 2005

 

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Schwarzenegger's Initiative

We've all known for years how polarized the U.S. House of Representatives has become, with liberal Democrats on one side of the aisle, conservative Republicans on the other, with the moderates in the middle shrinking to a vanishing point. I'd never really understood how it happened over my adult lifetime, as I recall years back that moderates in both parties dominated the politics of Capitol Hill. Then I read an account by Stuart Taylor, the peerless Supreme Court reporter for the National Journal who blames it all on the unexpected consequences of seemingly well-meaning decisions of the High Court. I posted my memo here last November with Taylor's article appended.

Taylor made it sound like a hopeless situation that could not be corrected, given the willingness of politicians in both major parties to control the redistricting of seats to make their re-election virtually certain. As he put it: "The bipartisan species of gerrymandering, designed to entrench incumbents, has filled the House of Representatives and many state legislatures with the most conservative of Republicans and the most liberal of Democrats. It has also eliminated most of the moderate centrists who once greased the wheels of comity and compromise."

Lo and behold, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now confronting the issue head on with the one instrument that could slay what has become a Soviet-style democracy. Of all the states, California may be the worst of the lot, where congressional and legislative seats never change hands anymore; this means elections are meaningless in moderating the views of voters within the districts. The governor aims at putting an initiative on the November ballot that will take the power to redistrict away from the politicians and place it in the hands of judges who can redraw the gerrymandered districts in time for the 2008 elections.

And guess who is heading up the committee to get the necessary 600,000 signatures on the initiative petition? My old friend Bill Mundell, the son of my even older friend, Bob Mundell, the prime mover of supply-side economics and 1999 Nobel laureate in economic science. An enormously successful businessman, Bill has decided to devote himself to public service, first taking on the campaign to break the gerrymander grip and then, perhaps, next year run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Diane Feinstein. If the initiative succeeds, it could spread to the rest of the nation and restore our old-fashioned American-style democracy.

Here is the brief speech Bill gave last week in announcing the committee he formed to help make the Schwarzenegger initiative a success. My favorite line: "The voters should choose the politicians, not the other way around."

* * * * *

Thereís a lot of hopelessness in the country right now. A lot of people who feel their voices have no impact in our democratic system.

And you know, the sad part about it is that, in California, theyíre right. The system by which we elect our legislative and congressional representatives is fixed. Itís corrupt. Itís undemocratic. Itís contemptuous of the voting public.

Did you know that out of 153 seats that were up for re-election in California last year, NOT ONE seat changed hands. For the first time in modern California history, Republicans won all the seats that they previously held, and the Democrats did the same. At the risk of sounding too cynical, do you really think this was because the electorate was so completely satisfied? I do not think so.

In 2001 the two major parties made a backroom deal that all but guaranteed their re-election. As the LA Times recently noted, Democrats wanted to solidify control of the State Assembly and Senate. Republicans for their part, were so worried about losing even more districts that they went along with Democrats, drawing crooked districts, aimed solely at locking in the status quo. In the process, they eliminated competition in 173 legislative and congressional districts, effectively disenfranchising millions of California voters.

Iím not here to point fingers at Republican and Democrats; Iím here to point fingers at the system thatís not working for the people of California. Iím here because I stand for a fair system that gives people the power to choose their representation

When there is no competition in elections, there is no accountability. Thereís no integrity. Without fair competition, political leaders donít have to be responsive to their constituencies. Until we fix whatís broken, we will never see the reforms we so desperately need in health education, transportation and immigration, and we will continue to see perverse legislation driven more by special interests then the will of the people.

You know, we have a Constitution in this state. Itís over 150 years old. It says in the redrawing of districts, the geographic integrity of any city, county or city and county shall be respected to the fullest extent possible.Ē

The Constitution was supposed to prevent districts like the 23rd; appropriately nicknamed the ďRibbon of ShameĒ because it flows 200 miles from Monterey to Oxnard and in some places is no wider than a football field.

The 23rd districtís contorted boundary is no exception. This is the political map of California. If you look around the state, you will see a crazy quilt of twisted districts that has nothing to do with the communities where people live and everything to do with protecting the incumbents.

No wonder there is hopelessness, no wonder people donít vote. No wonder so few speak out and even fewer run for public office.

Ladies and Gentleman, thereís got to be a better way.

I call on fair-minded Republicans and Democrats to put self interest aside and invest in our democracy.

I call on Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has done a commendable job on bringing this issue to the forefront, not to compromise with the legislature. Give us fair elections no later than next year.

I call on the people of California to stand up and say NO to cynical nothing politics and YES to an election process that puts voters, candidates and the issues on a level playing field.

Itís time to return to the most fundamental principle of American democracy. The voters should choose the politicians, not the other way around.

Thereís an irony here. At the same time we are seeing democracy bloom in parts of the world we didnít think possible, when we see people standing in line risking their life to vote, here in our own backyard, our democracy is being eroded to the point where it is hard to get people to show up to vote.

When our political leaders stop representing us, when they start dictating to us, when our vote is taken for granted, we the people have the right and the duty to stand up and do something about it. To take our state back. To make our voices heard.

That is why Iím here. That is why I formed Californians for Fair Redistricting Ė to take the power away from the politicians in the redrawing of district and put it back in the hands of the people. Through the appointment of independent judges, whose only vested interest is good government.

Today we sent out 2.5 million petitions to fellow Californians to ask for their support for Fair Redistricting Reform Now.

Over the next 29 days, I will personally be out on the streets to educate the voting public about the importance of this reform; and to secure the 600,000 signatures needed to qualify this initiative.

Itís time to reshuffle the cards. Itís time for a new deal for the people of California. Political pundits can paint us any color they like, red, blue, green, but destiny has deemed us the Golden State and this initiative will keep us so.