Citizen Commission Far Preferable to Politician-run Redistricting

John Kabateck
NFIB State Director in California

A couple years ago, I was talking to a small business owner who was venting his frustration about California’s broken political system: “Why should I get involved when my voice doesn’t even count?” I promised him at the time that the wheels were in motion to enact reforms in the state that would finally allow us to hold our politicians accountable. Part of those reforms, voter-approved Propositions 11 and 20, created the Citizens Redistricting Commission so politicians will no longer be in charge of drawing election districts to protect their jobs and the jobs of their friends. With fair election districts, politicians will actually have no choice but to listen to voters’ voices or lose their jobs.

The 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission has just completed their work on legislative, Board of Equalization and congressional district maps. And, as promised to voters who approved redistricting reforms, the redistricting process was undertaken in fully-noticed public meetings throughout the state, allowing for, and welcoming, community input. Much of the proceedings, including the Commission selection process, were also provided for public viewing online. The National Federation of Business/California and our members around the state were involved throughout the process, providing input and recommendations. Last week, the final maps were approved by a diverse group of Commissioners with nearly unanimous votes.

Now when voters go to the polls, they can trust that their election districts were not drawn to protect a politician or political party – but instead to allow citizens to choose who represents them. In this climate, we can expect to see more candidates spending time meeting with voters and working to address their needs. In other words, actually working to earn our votes.

In every redistricting process, though – whether run by an independent commission or by state or local politicians – there will be critics who do not think the outcome benefits them. Props. 11 and 20 anticipated and addressed this issue to allow for challenges of maps. If there are legitimate objections to any maps based on the Commission not abiding by the legal requirements of Props. 11 and 20, then those maps should be rightfully challenged and the issues resolved.

In addition, we understand that any new process will always have a degree of “growing pains” and various issues to work out – and Commissioners and staff should not hesitate to address those stakeholder concerns. This first-ever Commission was a massive undertaking and all the organizational processes had to be built from the ground up. In spite of this, we believe the Commission did a thoughtful, deliberate job and effectively addressed issues quickly and with transparency. The lessons learned by this Commission and other recommendations from the public and organizations will be shared with the next commission before they approach their work in 2021.

In the meantime, California should celebrate the fact that we have passed and implemented historic redistricting reform that should be the model for the nation. California voters (such as the angry small business owner I first spoke about) who were fed up with political gridlock and politicians not working to solve the very serious problems we all face took back the power to have a say in elections. We trust that with that power, voters in communities all over the state will have the opportunity to choose candidates who will best represent their needs. And they, including that small businessman, will finally have a real voice in elections.

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