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No on 77 Campaign: Two different teams, one common goal

There are two distinct campaigns against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Proposition 77 to redraw California’s legislative and Congressional districts–and they seem to be stepping on each other’s toes almost as much as the governor’s.

One side, inspired by Senate Leader Don Perata, wants to defeat all of the governor’s initiatives on Tuesday, from Propositions 74 through 77. The other side, rallied by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, seems to want to defeat 77, even if it crosses the other side’s goal.

Exhibit A in this dispute is the infamous “Jury Duty” mailer, paid for in part by the “No on 77” campaign for which Pelosi has been fundraising. It urges voters to vote “yes” on Propositions 74, 75 and 76 and “no” on 77.

“It was a little disconcerting when we found that mailer to Republicans, saying vote ‘yes’ on 77,” said Steve Maviglio, deputy chief of staff to Speaker Fabian Nunez, Maviglio also is the spokesman for the group opposing all of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives, Alliance for a Better California. “We’re trying to defeat everything,” he added.

The mailer also prompted complaints from the “yes” side, saying that its cover, with the words “Jury Duty” in big letters followed by “is good citizenship” in smaller letters might mislead voters into thinking the slate mailer by the Burbank-based Citizens for Good Government was a notice for jury service.

One campaign operative, an opponent of Proposition 77, said that the jury duty complaint was “silly” and that it was just a common ploy to get people to open the mailer.

Exhibit B are the Judge Wapner ads, which feature the well-known tele-jurist excoriating Proposition 77’s “power grab” by charging that it gives too much power to judges and is supported by “obscene” amounts of money. It fails to note that foes of Prop. 77 have raised millions more.

“We had nothing to do with that ad. That was the Michael Berman campaign,” said Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, referring to the political consultant brother of Democratic Rep. Howard Berman. Michael Berman was hired to draw the current California Congressional districts adopted by the state Legislature in 2001.

Carrick does take credit for the series of ads for Californians for Fair Representation, backed by Democrats in the state Legislature, that use three actors playing judges to point out unfavorable details in how 77 proposes to choose retired judges to draw new districts.

“I think what we tried to do is focus on the content of the initiative and expose the voters to the core of the issue,” Carrick said.

In one of Carrick’s ads, however, the judges spin the map of California into one of Texas, where Republican state legislators forced a mid-decade remap that helped wrest four more Congressional seats from Democrats in 2004. The theory behind Proposition 77’s supporters is that taking redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators would prevent such partisan maneuvers.

Experts are divided on what 77-which also calls for a mid-decade remap as soon as it passes-would accomplish. Some believe that with Republicans smarting at the state and national levels, drawing competitive districts could net more seats for the Democrats who staunchly oppose the measure.

Pelosi, who pushed her fellow California House members to pony up large sums to support the “No on 77” campaign, has stridently opposed 77, but her spokeswoman Jennifer Crider denied she was involved in directing it or was aware of its advertising.

“She does not have a campaign,” Crider said. “She can fundraise for the No on 77 campaign, but she’s not strategically involved in the campaign.”

The No on 77 campaign was bankrolled in part by film producer and Democratic Party financier Stephen Bing and his Shangri-La Entertainment production company, to the tune of $4.25 million.

A spokeswoman for the committee, Stephanie Williamson, said the “Jury Duty” letter was “something that we paid to be included in,” in order to distribute its letter arguing against 77. The committee was not aware of that the rest of the mailer would say, she added.

The divisions in the “No on 77” include Republicans who won’t side with the governor and even good-government groups like the League of Women Voters, pitted against 77 supporters Common Cause and the California Public Interest Research Group, and even its own chapters in other states.

“Partisan gerrymandering is one of the largest of the issues that we face,” said Lloyd Leonard, national advocacy director for the League of Women Voters. “Like so many reforms, the crucial questions are in the details. People can label something as reform that might not achieve the goal of reform.”

The League’s reformist agenda has, on the other hand, led it, along with Gov. Schwarzenegger, to endorse a Democrat-backed redistricting revamp initiative on the ballot in Ohio.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund would also like to see an end to redistricting abuses it has filed suit against, but doesn’t like the governor’s proposal. The three-judge panel that would be created by the initiative would not reflect the diversity of the state, said John Trasvi


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