Following the 2000 census the California Assembly, Senate and Governorship were all controlled by Democrats. In line with tradition they used their majority power to create new electoral districts designed to maximize the Democratic majority. They did this by drawing district lines that bunched Democrats and Republicans together in some very oddly shaped districts.
Look at district 15, drawn here in brown. It sends branches up toward Sacramento, an arm toward the East Bay, a stump to the south, etc. This is what a safe district looks like. Neighboring district 10 has an equally odd arrangement of offshoots to the east and south and a little hook over there on its left.
In 1990 this drawing of districts to create safe seats backfired. With safe districts turnover of legislators became rare and lawmakers became less responsive to voters, which made voters angry enough to pass term limits to try to solve the problem.
But that didn’t stop the games. The 2000 census created a new batch of safe districts, and I think this backfired again, only worse. First, no one foresaw 2008’s electoral sweep. This redistricting created safe Republican districts as well as Democratic districts because they increased the number of Democratic seats by bunching Republicans together into a few districts. The 2008 sweep could have taken out several more Republicans than it did because of the concentration of Republicans in these districts. In SD-19 Hannah-Beth Jackson lost her Senate race by less than 900 votes in that “safe” Republican district. A fair redistricting would have turned Santa Barbara’s Senate district over to the Democrats because enough voters there were fed up with the increasingly extremist Republicans running for office.
But the very worst consequence of the 2001 redistricting was that it guaranteed just enough safe Republican seats to enable the remaining extremist minority to block budgets while avoiding the political consequences. The way their districts are drawn they are going to get reelected no matter what, so they refuse to approve any budget that does not yield to all of the most absolutely extreme right-wing demands.
This November voters passed Proposition 11, which tries to set up a neutral process for drawing legislative districts. I hope that this process works as intended, creating districts that fairly represent their constituents’ interests. I also hope that this opens up the possibility of truly contested elections in which responsive politicians are asked to stay in office — and politicians who do not represent their constituents can be replaced.
I want to point out that if Proposition 11’s fair redistricting is successful this removes the justification for term limits. Voters should be allowed to keep representatives as well as remove them.