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A Win for [d]emocrats and Democrats

June 18, 2011

Last week, the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission released its first draft of California’s new political districts. The Commission was created by Prop. 11 in 2008 with the power to draw the lines of state legislative districts and, in 2010, its power was expanded to include drawing Congressional districts.

The propositions aimed to prevent the distortionary effects of allowing legislators to draw their own districts. When they are allowed to do so, they draw maps with ‘safe seats’ that protect incumbents and rarely result in competitive races. Uncompetitive districts lead to polarization in the Legislature: candidates cater exclusively to primary voters in their own party since winning the primary essentially guarantees victory in the general election. The effects of politician-drawn districts have been manifest in California: since 2002 only one of California’s 53 Congressional seats changed parties and the recently passed budget (more on that later) received no Republican votes.

From what I can tell, the Commission has done a good job. One political scientist estimated that up to a quarter of California’s Congressional districts would be competitive and a similar increase in competitiveness in state legislative districts can be inferred. Combined with the new top-two primary system, the redrawing should result in more effective representation and governance in California.

From a partisan perspective, the redistricting will likely benefit Democrats, reflecting the shrinking party registration of Republicans in the state. Most estimates say the Democrats will gain 3-5 seats in the House, 3 to 4 seats in the Assembly and 2 seats in the State Senate. The gains in the Legislature give Democrats the Holy Grail of two-thirds majorities in both houses, enabling them to raise taxes without Republican votes. This would allow them to protect our schools universities from the devastating cuts that have been forced by Republicans’ refusal to increase revenue.

The lines won’t be finalized until August, following a second draft to be released in July. For now, the maps look good.

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