By Tunua Thrash and Michelle Romero –
California has not even had a chance to fully implement 2008's Proposition 11, which called for the formation of a Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative districts, and already voters have given the commission more power. With this November's passage of Proposition 20, the commission will now be charged with drawing congressional districts as well.
This happened despite the fact that the commission's members hadn't even been chosen yet. As mandated by Prop. 11, the California Bureau of State Audits is in the middle of selecting 14 ordinary Californians to serve on the state's inaugural Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The thousands of original applicants were narrowed to 36 finalists, from whom eight commissioners were chosen by lottery Nov. 18. Before the end of the year, these eight members will select six more from the remaining pool of finalists.
Originally charged with drawing and adopting redistricting maps for state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization seats only, the commission's newly expanded role makes it even more vital that minority communities stay involved in this process.
For more than a year, The Greenlining Institute, in collaboration with other groups that focus on good government and the rights of communities of color, has monitored the selection of the commission members. The good news is that the first eight chosen show potential to reflect our state's ethnic diversity, but so far there is only one African American and one Latina. Geographically, large parts of the state, including Orange and San Diego Counties, the city of Los Angeles and most of the Central Valley, have no representation so far.
The just-picked commissioners should address these gaps when they choose the final six members, and the final makeup of this unelected and arguably unaccountable body is yet to be seen. The real question is, will they draw fair lines for the diverse communities of California?
As the most populous state in the union, California has the largest delegation in the U.S. Congress; whether or not it will grow even more powerful will be determined by the Census 2010 count. It also currently has one of the most diverse delegations. The Citizens Redistricting Commission stands to be a powerful force in determining the outcome of California elections for the next ten years.
Redistricting, a seemingly obscure topic previously understood and known by an elite few, is now squarely in the hands of the California citizens. The governor, state legislators and congressional representatives will have no authority in the redistricting process. And it's important: The lines dividing congressional and legislative districts decide who represents us and whether our communities have a real voice in government.
Voters have made their position clear: We don't trust Sacramento politicians and would rather the work of redistricting be done by 14 fellow Californians, even if we don't know who they are yet.
Voters' distrust of Sacramento was further underscored by the vote on Proposition 27, the ballot initiative to eliminate the commission. Prop. 27 would have returned redistricting authority to the state legislature, but it was rejected overwhelmingly by voters, who were highly skeptical bof its lead backers - California congressional and state elected officials. The results offer another reminder to officials that the public expects and wants more from our democracy: a chance to participate in turning our state around for the better.
While we at Greenlining were not convinced that the redistricting commission was ready for the additional responsibility of drawing congressional districts, we agree with California voters that now is the time to embrace government reform.
Having given the commission so much power, we need to make it work for all of our communities. We need you to join us as we advocate for greater community engagement in the political process and for increased transparency in how redistricting bdecisions are made.
Never before in our state's history has there been this sort of chance for ordinary Californians to shape the outcome of elections.
We will be working with communities around the state to make our voices heard as the Citizens Redistricting Commission does its work. Please join us at www.greenlining.org/initiatives/ourdemocracy.
Tunua Thrash is Director of Innovation and Michelle Romero is Redistricting Fellow at The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.