With partisan gridlock bogging down both Sacramento and Washington, it’s easy to wonder whether Democrats and Republicans can ever get together, look beyond what’s best for their parties and make the tough decisions they were hired to make.
Well, there’s one state body that’s shown multi-partisan, good government agreements still are possible and that’s why the 14 members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission are my choice for Californians of the Year.
When voters passed Prop. 11 in 2008, they meant to change the ultra-partisan way the state redraws its political boundaries after every Census. For decades, the majority party had run the redistricting process, drawing lines behind closed doors to reward their friends and punish their enemies. In the words of former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pushed the reform plan, “We need a system where voters choose the politicians, not where politicians choose the voters.”
Pundits predicted disaster at every turn, from the Rube Goldberg-like method that the members were chosen to the required multi-partisan makeup of the commission and the need for a very specific supermajority to approve the new maps for state Senate, Assembly, Board of Equalization and (thanks to 2010’s Prop. 20) Congress.
But it worked. Between January and July, the commission held dozens of meetings across the state, not only in the usual places like Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but in cities like Norco, Hanford, Oxnard and Redding, which are typically little more than names on the map to most state commissions. And then, after coming out with proposed maps, the commission went back on the road to hear the inevitable complaints about their artwork, then used those comments to design their final maps.
By law, the committee was composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and four decline-to-state or minor party voters. Maps could only be approved with at least three votes from each of those groups.
No problem. The final vote on the maps was 12-2 for the congressional map and 13-1 for all the others,
Not surprisingly, there were plenty of complaints about the final outcome. Republicans want a referendum to overturn the state Senate maps and plenty of local communities – and politicians – are unhappy with where the new lines fall.
But no decision was ever going to satisfy everyone and even the redistricting losers know they at least had a chance to make their arguments, something that never happened when the politicians were running the show.
The commission members promised transparency in their operations, a wide-ranging effort to let the people of the state be heard and then an honest attempt to look beyond party lines and follow the redistricting guidelines set by California’s voters, regardless of any political fallout.
They did what they promised and they did it on time. A state program that worked as advertised? Make those commissioners Californians of the Year.
There were a few other Californians who left their mark on the state in 2011.
Ed Lee was a veteran city bureaucrat when he was appointed as San Francisco’s interim mayor last January. Not only did Lee’s hands-on experience with everything from city purchasing to public works to contract negotiations give him an intimate knowledge of the city’s problems, but residents also found his willingness to work quietly – and relatively ego-free — with the city’s oft-warring factions was a welcome relief after 15 turbulent years with the far-more-colorful Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom in charge. When he ran for a full four-year term in November, Lee was an easy winner.
State Controller John Chiang shook up Sacramento last June when he ruled that the budget passed by the Legislature wasn’t really balanced and that he would cut off legislators’ paychecks until they met the state requirement for a balanced budget. It was never clear whether Chiang had that authority, but by elbowing his way to the front of the state’s budget wrangling, he not only focused attention on the problem, but also gave a boost to his political future.
As head of the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, Mac Taylor probably is the most important non-politician in Sacramento. By providing the real cost of not only proposed legislation, but also projects like the bullet train and numbers for the budget, Taylor ensures that when California politicians fight, they at least are fighting over the same numbers.