It is an old adage that California is a bellwether for the nation. Policy changes that happen here often flow eastward from tax revolts to climate strategies. Newly elected governor Gavin Newsom boldly predicted that recent California policies are the future for the rest of the country. Time will tell, but the idea that California political ideas will move the rest of the country is being tested currently, led by another of the Golden State’s governors.
Last week, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted a Terminate Gerrymandering Summit at his USC Schwarzenegger Institute. On hand were leaders of four states, Michigan, Utah, Colorado, and Missouri, that saw successful ballot propositions approved in recent elections to take the power of drawing districts from legislators and give it to independent committees.
Calling the art of Gerrymandering (the word comes from an 1812 Massachusetts state senate district drawing signed by Governor Gerry with one district shaped like a salamander) a “200-year old scam,” Schwarzenegger celebrated the electoral victories, which he said, now means that one-third of congressional districts nationally are no longer drawn by politicians.
The exuberant former governor went a bit overboard in declaring that redistricting is now “hip.” However, it’s not a stretch to understand that when people listen to arguments about politicians choosing their own voters under Gerrymandering that the fairness issue weighs heavily on the side of change.
Both political parties have practiced the art of Gerrymandering—drawing districts that would guarantee safe party seats.
There are efforts in Texas and North Carolina to undo Republican Gerrymanders and in Maryland to end a Democratic Gerrymander.
The success of the Utah proposition in a solid Republican state was built on campaign material quoting Republicans Ronald Reagan and Schwarzenegger on the undemocratic aspects of Gerrymandering.
Schwarzenegger was a principal supporter of California’s Proposition 11 in 2008 to draw electoral boundaries for state assembly and senate districts. That was followed two years later by Proposition 20, filed by Charles Munger, Jr., to add the task of redistricting congressional seats to the newly created commission’s responsibilities.
Schwarzenegger reminisced about leaders of Democratic and Republican caucuses fighting fiercely when he was governor over some policy issue only to call him later and say they were united in their opposition to his effort to support the initiative to end Gerrymandering. He said then (and now) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spearheaded an effort that supplied millions of dollars to defeat the measure.
Kathay Feng of Common Cause, one of the lead organizations attempting to end Gerrymandering around the nation, recalled once receiving a call from a San Francisco legislator (unidentified but a Democrat, of course—San Francisco) demanding that no more Asian voters be put in her district.
Schwarzenegger intends to continue the effort to push his California message nationally during the 2020 elections. He set a goal that two-thirds or more of the congressional districts drawn after the 2020 census will be in the hands of independent commissioners.