How Prop. 11 Passed

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

In a series of comments this summer, I wrote that Proposition 11 could pass, despite numerous unsuccessful past redistricting reform initiatives, if the proponents made the political class, rather than the arcane subject of redistricting, the center of their campaign.

That appears to be what happened. The race is not over as there are several million still uncounted absentee and provisional ballots, but the margin seems large enough that Proposition 11 will be enacted and California will have a redistricting commission for the 2011 legislative redistricting.

In a series of very effective television ads, proponents made the point that Prop 11 disciplined out of control politicians and allowed the voters to turn them out of office, without of course saying how. Proponents were also lucky that legislative Democrats and their allies did not spend lavishly to defeat the measure as they have in the past, and that some prominent Democrats joined Gov. Schwarzenegger in supporting redistricting reform.

A preliminary look at county return shows that the measure did fail in heavily Democratic areas, but it passed in many Democratic leaning suburbs. Proponents got across the point to these voters that this was meaningful reform. It also helped at virtually every newspaper in California supported the measure.

However, the measure did nearly lose because proponents did not communicate well to Republican voters. In every past reform effort, all of which had a GOP tint, it was Republican voters who said no, not wanting to create a new government agency (redistricting commission) to do a job they did not understand (drawing district lines).

The poor Republican vote was evidence in the measure’s defeat in heavily GOP counties such as Kern and Tulare Counties. There should have been direct mail to GOP voters from the still very popular Schwarzenegger (at least with Republicans) telling them to vote yes. Failure to make that point nearly cost them the election.

But proponents were lucky – enough reform minded suburban Democrats got the message and that seems to have made the difference.

What’s next? Now that Californians have embraced this reform, proponents should turn their attention to restoring the open primary. That would have a huge impact on how the legislature works. It should be the next crusade.

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