Common Cause chief visits CCT

Bob EdgarFormer U.S. Congressman Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania, the national president and CEO of Common Cause, an open government advocacy group, stopped by the offices of the Contra Costa Times this afternoon to promote his group’s involvement in yet another California redistricting initiative.

The “Voters First Act” would strip state legislators of their power to draw political boundaries for the California Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization. (It does not include the boundaries for California congressional district.) It would turn the job of drawing the lines over to a 14-member commission selected, in part, by the top four leaders in the California Legislature and a random pool administered by the California State Auditor and drawn from volunteer applicants. (Click here for a link to California Common Cause and all the details of the proposal.)

Common Cause has joined with the League of Women Voters, American Association of Retired People and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to advance the initiative, which they hope to gather an adequate number of signatures and place on the November 2008 ballot.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also endorsed this measure, a high-profile name that proponents hope will finally push this reform effort into the victory column.

There have been many prior attempts to revise the redistricting process, none of which have prevailed.

Redistricting reform has a couple of inherent problems at the ballot box.

One, it’s complicated and complex stuff rarely translates into an easily digested ballot initiative for voters.

Two, there’s nothing in it for the Democrats who control the California Legislature. Top Democrats had promised to package redistricting and term limit reforms but when the dust settled, only term limits made it onto the February ballot. (Proposition 93 would alter the way the state factors term limits.)

Why the foot-dragging? In part, several academic studies of redistricting reform suggested that a handful of Assembly and Senate seats would potentially become competitive for Republicans if the boundaries were drawn with something other than partisan political advantage in mind. Democrats had hoped to trade support for redistricting reform with a change in term limit law, a deal that was never quite struck.

But Edgar said this afternoon that he hopes the new four-member coalition, coupled with the governor’s support and Common Cause’s new national election and campaign reform effort, will finally reach voters. It may seem like a long shot but Edgar described himself as optimistic.

“There is a lot to be done to restore the public’s confidence in their public officials, that elected leaders are responding to the voters and not special interests,” Edgar said.

UPDATE: We had a question at the Times about the political independence of the California State Auditor, whose office is proposed under the initiative as the administrator of the application process for appointment to the 14-member redistricting commission.

As it turns out, the auditor is not entirely free of political involvement but the selection and management of the office is bipartisan. Here’s a brief explanation of how it works as explained by a spokeswoman at the auditor’s office:

A joint legislative audit committee comprised of seven state senators and seven assemblymembers interviews and selects three candidates for state auditor. The governor makes the four-year appointment from among the three names and only these three names. The auditor can only be removed prior to the end of his or her term by the Legislature, and the office receives its assignments only from the joint panel or by law. (For a link to State Auditor Elaine Howle’s web site and a full explanation, click here.)

Lisa Vorderbrueggen