Propositions’ impact on plate at League of Women Voter’s luncheon
Story and photos by Emily Anderson
October 2, 2010 (San Diego) -- Members of the San Diego League of Women Voters met last Thursday, September 23 at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse on Harbor Island to hear a three-member panel discuss redistricting, including the potential impact of an upcoming ballot initiative that could overturn a major redistricting measure previously approved by voters.
Sail boats drifted lazily past as Elizabeth Maland, San Diego city clerk, Vladimir Kogan, a UCSD student and Kathay Feng, an author of Proposition 11 and executive director of California Common Cause, discussed redistricting both at the local and state level. Kogan and Feng did most of the talking, discussing their differing viewpoints about the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission and how it affects gerrymandering.
The luncheon event was titled “Redistricting: The Good, the bad and the ugly.” Mike Aguirre, former San Diego city attorney was supposed to be the fourth person on the panel, but could not make it to the event.
Maland spoke about redistricting guidelines and procedures the city follows from the city charter; Kogan spoke about components and his dislikes of Proposition 11 and Feng spoke about the good aspects of Proposition 11. While Proposition 27 will appear on the November ballot and would overturn Proposition 11, it was rarely discussed.
Dozens of people listened to the panel, intensely observing the PowerPoint presentations being shown to them. Kogan is a political science student in the process of receiving his Ph.D. and pleasantly opposed Feng’s viewpoints while presenting.
Proposition 11 passed on the November 2008 ballot and created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which created a bipartisan 14-member committee to draw state district lines. Proposition 11 states that applicants whom apply to serve on the redistricting commission cannot be a previous or current government employee, a lobbyist, an immediate relative of a government employee or could not have donated more than $2,000 in any year to a local, state or congressional candidate.
From the text of Proposition 11:
“The Citizens Redistricting Commission shall consist of 14 members, as follows: five who are registered with the largest political party in California based on registration, five who are registered with the second largest political party in California based on registration, and four who are not registered with either of the two largest political parties in California based on registration.”
Kogan disagreed with Feng, saying that people who have government experience should be allowed to apply to serve on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Kogan said, while reiterating the text of Proposition 11, that a three-member Applicant Review Panel is selected at random from a pool of Certified Public Accountants. He said CPAs shouldn’t decide which members to pick for the commission. The text says that these three members of the Applicant Review Panel are “employed by the state and licensed by the California Board of
Accountancy at the time of the drawing.” He also mentioned that this applicant panel selects the most qualified candidates – but defining “most qualified” leaves Kogan hesitant.
What are his concerns with having the regular public apply?
“My concern with the commission is that we are going to have a group of un-elected and unrepresentative people make critical decisions – decisions that are fundamentally about core political values,” he said after the event. “Back in the early 1900s, the Progressive movement sought to take politics out of politics, and make government be run by professionals and experts…My concern is that the same thing is going to happen with this commission, especially given the unrepresentative nature of the applicants.”
During the event, Kogan kept mentioning value-based decisions, and that decisions of whomever draws district lines are going to differ no matter if the state district lines are drawn by the legislature, the state supreme court, or by the commission created by Proposition 11.
“Are the values of our representatives’ districts our values?” Kogan asked the audience. He answered his own question, saying the values of our representatives aren’t always ours.
“How many people in the room are representative of California?” he said, stating that applicants for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission probably aren’t representative of California either. He said the applicants are mostly old, white men.
As of the Thursday before the event, Feng said the 30,000 people who initially applied to serve on the were narrowed down to about 120 people. 30 percent of the applicants were Latino, 14 percent were Asian, 12 percent were African American and 5 percent were American Indian. 47 percent were women.
Kogan also believes Proposition 11 isn’t the best step to prevent gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering occurs when districts are drawn for political gain.
“The current concern about gerrymandering seems to be the state legislature drawing safe districts for incumbents…gerrymandering does not increase incumbency advantage, which is the key claim … Common Cause make(s),” Kogan said. “Second, the decision to draw safe districts in California was made for defensive reasons,” going on to note that “the legislature doesn’t actually want to draw pro-incumbent districts. It only does this out of fear of the minority party.”
Feng discussed three major reasons why she created Proposition 11:
• To avert having strange-looking districts, because sometimes this is an indicator of what’s really going on (in the political arena);
• To end racial gerrymandering – i.e. the incumbent in a district can redraw his or her district to exclude Latino voters if he or she has a Latino challenger, so the incumbent can win re-election;
• To end extreme incumbent protection – for example, in 2001, Duke Cunningham’s district was drawn to protect him (challengers wouldn’t win because the district was drawn to have more Republican voters to re-elect him).
Feng said the city of Watts is in three districts at the state senate and congressional level and that residents are “ping-ponged” between two representatives, which makes voters unsure of who represents them, and if their interests are being represented at all.
These are reasons why Feng supports voters being directly involved in the political process, as the text states:
“The independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will draw districts based on strict, non-partisan rules designed to ensure fair representation. The reform takes redistricting out of the partisan battles of the Legislature and guarantees redistricting will be debated in the open with public meetings, and all minutes will be posted publicly on the Internet. Every aspect of this process will be open to scrutiny by the public and the press.”
Kogan, who is not fond of the proposition, thinks transparent meetings aren’t necessarily good.
“It’s basically procedural,” he said. “I don’t think the process is the end all, be all.”
Although he finds Proposition 11 faulty, he isn’t sure of how the redistricting process should be handled.
Feng also knows Proposition 11 doesn’t solve everything.
“We’re trying to balance competing concerns people have,” she said. “We wanted a bureau (of state audits) that had some staying power.”
She also understands that methods of communication can be improved in the future regarding voter involvement. She wants people to sit down at the metaphorical political dinner table and start becoming engaged with the metaphorical meal. She feels the Citizens Redistricting Commission enables voter engagement.
“One day we all might be visiting each other through holograms,” she said, while getting a chuckle from the audience, citing possible future communication ideas.
The audience speaks:
At end of the panel discussion, the audience members asked many questions. Jewell Hooper, an elderly African American woman, stood in the back of the room, off to the side, to talk indirectly to Kogan, who kept mentioning value statements in regard to redistricting.
“You talk of a community of values” Hooper said. “Who decides what that is? Activists? I see as the basic problem (is that) we call ourselves a democratic country, but so few people are participating. There is no penalty for not participating. If I worked as hard at my job as my volunteering I’d file a grievance (chuckles in the audience). They took civics out of school. The penalty is being poor and uneducated.”
The League of Women Voters’ is a nonpartisan organization with a mission is to educate people about all sides of an issue, which is why Maland, Kogan and Feng attended. Kogan and Feng have different viewpoints, but this is what ensures audience members to hear both sides.
Barbara McGill, a retired school teacher, attended the event. It was her first local League of Women Voters event.
“I am here to be informed,” she said. “The League of Women Voters has not made positions on current ballot initiatives. I often seek out information from the League of Women Voters. I’ve always looked at them as being fairly unbiased.”
The League of Women Voters does take positions on several propositions occurring on this year’s ballot. While some people might see that the league might lean toward one side of the political aisle, this isn’t the case.
Jeanne Brown, the San Diego organizer for the League, explained how the league operates.
“We’re progressive, but not necessarily liberal,” Brown said. “We worked for social security and healthcare long before it was passed. We only have a position after we have a year-long study; a thorough study.”
All chapters in the nation have to agree upon a certain stance on each issue before the League of Women Voters itself publishes its stance. Brown said the league sometimes is neutral regarding an issue because the league hasn’t yet studied it.
“We all have our opinions but if we haven’t done a study, we don’t (issue) a consensus,” she said.