Sunday, November 06, 2005

Letter to the Daily

The letter to the Daily about their endorsement of Prop. 77 (modified to include links):
As a registered Democrat who can legitimately be construed as a Party activist, I will not state my position on Proposition 77. But I would like to take issue with the a statement that the editorial board made on Friday in support of Prop. 77: "We think this plan will make elections more competitive". It was a little disappointing not to see any facts to back up this statement, since "independent commissions" in other states exist where this statement could be evaluated. I'm sure the editorial board did their homework on this, but I figured I'd share some of the homework I did on the subject.

The (AIRC) Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is widely praised as a model for how redistricting should be done, and is similar to the idea presented in Prop. 77. If removing politicians from the drawing of district lines increases competition, as the editorial board suggests, then we would expect that the AIRC drawn districts would increase the competition in Congressional and State Senate races (state House representation is multi member, and are not considered). In fact, the actual numbers, easily obtained from the Arizona Secretary of State website indicate otherwise. Not only did all Congressional incumbents retain their seats, but their average margin of victory actually increased from the "gerrymandered" districts of 2000 (28% in 2000 to 35% in 2004 by my arithmetic). The numbers for 2000 can be found here; for 2004, here. I'll leave it as an exercise to see how many state senate seats changed hands.

Proponents of the constitutional amendment proposed by Prop. 77 seem quite set on incessantly chanting the "153" number for California. Yes, I think that is bad. But commission-based redistricting have not preformed much better, without any Congressional districts drawn by commissions changing hands. It's dishonest--or lazy--not to fully discuss the successes or failures of the alternatives. Additionally, Prop. 77 proponents fail to mention that 90% of incumbent Senators retain their seats--and no "gerrymandering" takes place for these races. It seems more likely that their is an inherent advantage to being an incumbent, such as name recognition and fundraising advantages.

Nearly every proponent of Prop. 77 explicitly state that it is not perfect and lacking. Furthermore, results from commission based districting states such Arizona and Iowa (where no Congressional seats changed hands, and competition decreased between 2004 and 2002) indicate that the success of these programs haven't been able to generate drastic changes in competititon--decreasing competition in Arizona.

The editorial board and proponents of Prop. 77 want me to put legislation into the state constitution that they admit isn't likely to be the best, while similar initiatives resulted in demonstrably poor results. That seems like a reckless way to treat the constitution. I tend to regard the constitution in high regards and shudder at the thought of putting something so dubious into it. I also disagree with the thought that a Proposition can make it into the constitution with 50% plus one of actual votes, which is likely to be a low percentage of the total voting population since this is the fifth election in the last two years. Shouldn't we hold constitutional amendments to a higher standard than this? Apparently, the editorial board doesn't think so.


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