The Blog

Inside the Lines

California's Proposition 77 has incumbents running scared.

12:00 AM, Oct 21, 2005 • By BILL WHALEN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Some California Democrats, on the hand, could best be described as internally conflicted between political gain and self-preservation. Representative Howard Berman, whose brother Michael designed the map that kept the states' congressional Democrats in safe standing (his law firm is running the "No on 77" campaign), is a case in point. If redrawn, Berman's seat in the San Fernando Valley would become decidedly more Hispanic, thus leaving him vulnerable to a primary challenge. Berman avoided this problem in the last redistricting. Thanks to his brother's skills at political cartography, the 26th Congressional District went from 65 percent to 41 percent Hispanic, with roughly 100,000 California Latinos moved into nearby districts.

But House Democrats aren't the only ones caught in the middle. Representative David Dreier, the powerful House Rules Committee chairman who narrowly survived reelection last fall, will be a loser under redistricting reform: his district would become more Democratic. Dreier also is Schwarzenegger's best buddy in the House (they shared stogies in his Capitol office on the morning of the presidential inauguration). If he's rooting for Prop. 77 to fail, he won't publicly do so at the Governator's expense. Others caught in the political cross-fire: Common Cause (its national president came to California this past week to endorse 77, but its state chapter has refused to get on board); and Reform Ohio Now, a labor-backed group that's willing to help Schwarzenegger in California in exchange for his help with a similar measure in the Buckeye State.

Will Prop. 77 prevail on November 8? History says don't bet on it. Since 1982, five redistricting initiatives have qualified for the ballot; none passed. The reform won't dramatically redefine the California landscape--Claremont-McKenna's Rose Institute estimates that 10 congressional, 7 Assembly and 8 state Senate districts would become competitive, compared to the 0, 3 and 1, respectively, at present.

What the initiative does test is the depth of public outrage. California is no stranger to political power plays: A Democratic gerrymander in the 1980s gave their party five more seats in the House, at a time when the state was voting Republican in presidential elections. But that's small potatoes compared to what occurred leading up to September 2001. Democrats paid Michael Berman almost $2 million over 18 months to redesign 93 congressional and state Senate districts. California's 32 Democratic House members paid $20,000 apiece to guarantee their day jobs, prompting this quote from Rep. Loretta Sanchez: "Twenty thousand is nothing to keep your seat . . . If my colleagues are smart, they'll pay their $20,000, and Michael will draw the district they can win in. Those who have refused to pay? God help them."

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics. He has been consultant for Steve Poizner both on Proposition 77 and Poizner's 2004 Assembly campaign.