State needs more diverse applicants for redistricting panel

  • ** FILE ** Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger removes red tape that had been placed on a street in Elk Grove, Calif., to show how legislative districts can divide neighborhoods, Thursday, May 5, 2005. Proposition 77, Schwarzenegger's redistricting measure, was thown off the ballot by Judge Gail Ohanesian, ruling that supporters violated California's constitution by using two versions of the initiative in the qualifying process. The lawsuit, filed by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, asked the judge to order the measure off the ballot because it's supporter used two versions, one to gather voter signatures and another they gave to Lockyer to prepare a title and summary of the proposal to use on petitions.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

When voters stripped California lawmakers of the power to draw their own districts, we called it "an important step on the path to legislative accountability."

It's time for the next step, and you can participate.

Proposition 11, which passed in November 2008 despite a $1.6 million blitz against it, established an independent citizens commission to draw new boundaries for state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts based on the 2010 census.

In the past, legislators used that power to rig the districts, rendering elections all but irrelevant. Consider this: Polls consistently show enormous public dissatisfaction with the state Legislature; a Field Poll released Sunday put the approval rating at just 16 percent. Yet not a single incumbent has lost in a general election since the current boundaries took effect eight years ago.

After last year's budget debacle, which saw weeks of inaction as the state paid its bills with IOUs, only four incumbents received less than 54 percent of the vote. Most legislators were re-elected with majorities of 65 percent or better.

That's the value of choosing your own voters.

With the 2010 census fast approaching, state Auditor Elaine Howle is in the process of choosing the 14 members of the redistricting commission. The panel will include five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents or members of other parties. Elected officials and lobbyists aren't permitted to serve.

About 8,500 eligible people have applied, but the applicants don't reflect California's great diversity. Almost 70 percent are male, and a similar number are white. Democrats and Republicans are over-represented; independents are under-represented. The largest concentration of applicants comes from Sacramento and nearby counties. The smallest, by a wide margin, comes from the North Coast counties — Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt and Del Norte.

The deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Application forms are available at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.

Serving on this commission would require a significant commitment of time in the first six to eight months of 2011. Members will be paid $300 per day of work plus expenses, and a professional staff will help analyze the data.

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