Friday, November 11, 2005

One Last (?) RON Roundup

I promise to stop here, but see the caveat at the end.

A frustrating NYT op-ed crows about the combined defeat of our Issue 4 and Ahnold's Prop 77 in Cali. The authors make one good point -- that writing into districting reform a proviso for mid-decade redistricting looks like a power grab. Fair enough and something to bear in mind going forward. A less compelling point is that people are nervous about an appointed board. This always seemed like a red herring to me.

The bulk of the remainder of the piece totes up the flaws in Prop. 77. Prop 77 and Issue 4 were essentially opposite approaches. Issue 4 required the districting board to use available party registration data to consciously maximize competitiveness. Prop 77, as I understand it, forbade the districting from using the party registration data and commanded it to use objective criteria having nothing to do with competitiveness.

The NYT post questions the latter approach, and apparently endorses the former:

A better way to reform the system is to constrain the line-drawers by forcing
them to show that the map they adopt will not only comply with federal law (the
"one person, one vote" rule and the Voting Rights Act) but will also minimize
partisan bias and increase competitiveness. An unbiased districting plan would
treat both parties roughly the same, relative to their statewide vote totals -
not guaranteeing proportional representation, but creating a fair chance for
both parties to convert a majority of votes into a majority of seats. And to
increase competitiveness, redistricters should have to show (again, using recent
election returns) that their plan creates a reasonable number of districts that
are closely balanced between Democrats and Republicans.

Great guys. So aside from mid-decade redistricting, what do you think of Issue 4? They say nothing.

The (potentially) big new yesterday was the overture from House Speaker Jon Husted to RON leader Rep. Ed Jerse, offering to sit down and try to negotiate some ideas for districting reform. The BlogLeft is scratching its head over this. Democracy Guy has an extreme reaction (in other news, water is wet); he says the Dems should refuse any negotiation because clearly it's a trap. When pressed, Democracy Guy digs in his heels (also, having money makes you rich).

Setting aside Tim's rant, what the hell is going on? Certainly, Husted is doing this because he thinks it will benefit his party and constituency. This is politics. The percentage of people who operate out of pure idealism is somewhat less than those who actually voted for RON. So what is Husted's angle? I propose two possibilities.

First, Husted sees the writing on the political wall. He sees a real possibility for Democrats controlling the next districting process, and wants to hedge his bets. If Dems win and hold two of the three state office on the commission, they can rework the map to retake the General Assembly in the 201o's. The GA draws the lines for US Congress Reps and the last gerrymandering makes retaking the GA unlikely, so we probably won't see much change there.

Second, Husted is concerned about citizen referenda in general. One reason I supported RON despite my misgivings about the technicalities was the insurgency of the enterprise. Again and again we've seen the GA impose high-handed changes to solify there power. I liked RON for the brick it hurled through the smooth pane of Republican power. Husted may be seeing the same thing, but feels less sanguine about it.

In any event, I agree with D-Guy that the Republicans are in this effort for themselves. I disagree that we should walk away. First, the current system is as bad as it could possibly be. The party in power has carte blanche to do whatever they want. Pretty much any change would be an improvement.

Second, we don't really need to worry about the RON movement being co-opted. At 1/3 of the electorate, the movement doesn't have much life left under current circumstances.

Finally, walking away would look horrible. If people perceive that reformers have a chance to sit down for bipartisan negotiations but walked away, they will lose all credibility. Republicans may, as D-Guy says, be looking for cover. If we walk away now, we will give it to them.