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Opinion: Just as the voters wanted: Redistricting reform becoming reality

Creating a redistricting commission made up of citizens who would be charged with redrawing the political district lines for the State Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization — that’s not your typical job description for an audit organization.  But that is exactly what the voters required my office to do when they approved Proposition 11 — the Voters FIRST Act (Act) in November 2008.  

After two years of presentations, speeches, meetings, interviews and random drawings, on Nov. 30, I had the honor of administering the oath of office to the first eight members of what will be California’s first 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission.  Those commissioners are now in the process of selecting the final six members and once they complete that task the full commission can begin its work of redrawing the lines.

By approving Proposition 11 the voters essentially shifted the responsibility of who draws the State Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization district lines to the commission and charged my office with implementing the application and selection process for establishing the commission. My office took the voters’ wishes to heart – we embraced it and set out to do as the voters wished: we developed a process for selecting 14 citizens that was credible, thorough, and transparent.  And as we approach the formation of the full commission, I can tell you that it’s incredibly exuberating to watch our hard work unfold.

Were there bumps along the way?  You bet!  After all, it isn’t every day a state’s independent, nonpartisan auditor’s office adopts regulations, conducts a statewide education and outreach campaign, holds public hearings to identify qualified applicants, and implements an application and selection process of this magnitude. Funding?  Low. My office absorbed most of the costs.  Timelines? Tight. My staff worked many long days.  Politically charged?  Some would say so – especially this last November when voters faced two competing initiatives and ultimately approved adding redrawing congressional districts to the commission’s workload.  Well known topic?  Not really. Many hadn’t heard of redistricting.  Public scrutiny?  Like no other – placing everything on the website empowered the public to be part of the process.

In keeping with the spirit of the act, we set out to create a very transparent process.  We made just about everything available on our website – don’t believe me?  Check it out at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.  If you dig a little (well, you really don’t have to dig much – we haven’t taken much down, just put past information on our “archives” page!), you can still read transcripts  of or comments received from the public regarding the regulations.  You can watch the random selection of the Applicant Review Panel or one of the many public meetings they held in identifying 60 of the most qualified applicants – 20 Republicans, 20 Democrats and 20 who were either decline-to-state or belong to another party.  Or, you can watch the drawing held on Nov. 18th when I randomly selected the first eight members of the commission.

The application and selection process as called for by the act was long – applicants submitted initial applications nearly a year ago, and later submitted a lengthier supplemental application which included obtaining three letters of recommendation.  Then, more public scrutiny – their applications were deliberated in public meetings and those who were selected to be interviewed, were interviewed in a public setting.  Many asked “who would be willing to go through such a long and rigorous public process just to become a member of this first commission?” Well, nearly 30,000 submitted the initial application and 4,500 submitted the supplemental application. And who were they?  Entrepreneurs, attorneys, teachers, soccer moms, retirees, dentists, engineers – a variety of individuals with many different backgrounds – much like California!  You can read the applications of those individuals who remain in the applicant pool and learn more about them or watch their interviews and witness first hand, their passion and eagerness to serve California.

So here we are … in the final stretch.  When the first eight commissioners select the final six members to create the 14-member commission, we will have fulfilled our role in this historical process.  The citizens of California entrusted my office with this responsibility – I think we’ve served you well.  I invite you to watch as these commissioners select the final six commissioners which they must do by no later than Dec. 31, 2010.  You can watch it or learn more at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.

And as the full commission conducts its work, I for one plan on staying engaged in the process and encourage all of you to do so.  Attend commission meetings.  Provide the commission with your thoughts as they contemplate where to draw the district lines.  Be a voice in your community and participate in redistricting your state – this great state we all call home.


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