Californians are frustrated with their government – and for good reason. They see a government that devotes more attention to the needs of special interests rather than to the priorities important to all of us, such as addressing our water crisis and solving our perpetual budget mess that has hurt so many in our state.
Many people in my district and countless more throughout the state have asked how our elected officials could have become so out of touch in the first place. The answer is simple – partisan gerrymandering has created a system where state representatives do not have to answer to the voters, but instead to the vocal partisans and interest groups who helped put them into office.
Under the current system, lawmakers get to choose their voters rather than the other way around. This makes a mockery of the term “representative government” that we learned in our high school civics classes.
Over the years, politicians and their partisan allies have conspired to draw their own legislative district lines and have carved out safe seats for themselves. They have rigged the system in such a way that 99% of those running for re-election in California legislative contests have won their races!
As Governor Schwarzenegger likes to say, there is more turnover in the Hapsburg monarchy than in California government. Without worrying about defending one’s record to the people, lawmakers have little incentive to be receptive to voter needs and make the tough choices needed to solve our state’s biggest problems.
It is that unresponsiveness that I believe lies at the heart of Sacramento’s ineffectiveness to tackle the issues of the day. By not having to compete for votes, most lawmakers can continue to ignore the voices of regular hard-working taxpayers in their districts. The only voices that they feel they need to listen to are those of the spending lobby and special interests that bankroll campaigns.
We have seen this manifest itself with too many in Sacramento unwilling to do what is right for their constituents – stepping outside their narrow boxes to work together to solve the major problems facing our state.
But all this will begin to change under a significant political reform passed by the voters last November – Proposition 11. This is the redistricting reform that will have an independent citizens’ commission draw district boundaries, not the politicians. Prop. 11 requires that the boundaries be drawn based on non-partisan rules and requires the districts to reflect the diversity of our communities, instead of the ambitions of politicians who want to win re-election.
As a lawmaker, I do feel that it is a shame that we have to resort to a citizens’ commission in the first place to have them do what the Legislature cannot do for itself in drawing honest lines. It is also a shame that lawmakers do not feel they can work together in the spirit of bipartisan problem solving and remain in office to fix our broken system once and for all.
While it may have been overshadowed by the presidential election, the passage of redistricting reform last year does represent a sea change that will make state politics more competitive in the long run. It will push the integrity of legislators in a way I hope will make them more responsive to a true majority of voters in their district, fighting for common-sense policies that are in the best interests of taxpayers, not the self-interests of the Sacramento spending lobby.
Make no mistake – I and all those who support reform do not believe that changing the way that legislative districts are drawn is the cure-all to California’s problems. Indeed, we believe more work will be needed to create a more open and efficient government that Californians expect and deserve.
However, by ending the indefensible practice of lawmakers choosing their own voters, we have taken a giant step forward in restoring the people’s faith in Sacramento – a key component in making California the Golden State once again.