While there has been recent grousing in the media regarding the
California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, let’s not forget the
reasons we voted for the initiatives that that proposed creating the
commission in the first place. Before California passed Prop. 11 and 20,
legislators drew their own district lines, often dividing neighborhoods
or groups of people in ways that benefitted their own electoral needs.

Politicians would neglect the public concerns of their home communities
and make back door deals based on their personal desires to stay in
office. This old practice of political gerrymandering suppressed civic
participation in an important democratic process.

By contrast, the Citizens Commission has already successfully engaged the
public in a manner that has never been done before – with thousands of
people turning out to speak or write to the Commission about their

Redistricting commentator Tony Quinn recently critiqued the CRC’s map
drafts and visualizations as “frenetic” and “bizarre” and even accused
one commissioner of injecting his personal partisan politics into the
line drawing.

Curious, because in June, Tony praised the Commission for its work to
date: “First, it is clear the Commission and staff listened to the community
input they received. What different areas said they wanted are reflected
in many of the new maps. Second, they said they would not use political
data and they did not. The maps are balanced in partisan terms; both
parties have reason to be pleased and displeased. There is no partisan
advantage in these first maps. And the maps draw a remarkable number of
politically marginal districts. Naysayers criticized me when I said the
objective should be to create competitive districts; well, whether by
design or by chance that is what the Commission has done. Now the
important thing is to retain that political balance in the final maps,
especially when the Commission comes under assault from bruised
incumbents who don’t like their districts.”

So why the about face?

While it’s not clear why Tony is changing his line, it is clear that the old
partisan forces that have battled over district lines in the past are getting
ready for potential litigation and a possible referendum.

I guess it is true – it really IS hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
Maybe the critique really has to do with certain incumbents and partisans
who can’t get used to the idea that the new districts should reflect the
population changes over the last decade. Maybe they are just scared silly
about losing control to a new citizen-led process.

The real question to address is not a moot media-filler that asks whether
the commission is “collapsing,” as put by Dan Walters in the Sacramento
Bee, but rather, is this commission process better than the old
incumbent-driven gerrymandering done behind closed doors. The answer to
that is unquestionably – yes.