Last week, I proudly joined a number of current and former Republican Party officials in Los Angeles to condemn an L.A. county GOP event promoting California’s Proposition 8 – the measure which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples.
Now, the role of the local political party plays California is to help elect its members to office. Which is why another, less heralded ballot measure, Proposition 11, is much more important – now and for decades to come. Proposition 11 is on California’s ballot this fall but it’s not just a California issues, as a look at a number of large states’ (Texas) voting districts demonstrates. The ways in which legislative districts across the country are drawn is a wonky – but important issue – for anyone interested in politics.
Here in Los Angeles, County Republican Chairman Linda Boyd defended the “Town Hall Forum” on Proposition 8 as a good way to elect more Republicans by energizing the volunteer base. But even if Boyd is correct, in the long-term she’s dead wrong. Not only will Proposition 8 eliminate constitutional rights for many loyal Republicans, but if the party wanted to elect more Republicans, it should focus instead on passing Proposition 11, the ballot measure designed to end gerrymandering by creating a fairer process for drawing voting districts.
Although the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress are less popular than President George Bush in California – a Herculean feat – almost no member of either body is seriously worried about losing his or her job eight weeks from now. Under the current scheme – which some say was a cynical deal by the legislature and the state’s Congressional delegations – exactly zero legislative and only a few Congressional seats have changed parties. I can’t think of a better testament to the broken system California has for drawing its legislative boundaries.
State legislators draw the lines for the seats they will sit in every ten years and those incumbents draw lines creating election districts that don’t foster real competition. Only in one case of gross malfeasance by an incumbent Congressman have we seen a seat in Congress change hands
So California elections – our primaries, really – have become a race to the ideological extremes. Democrats must only compete for the votes of Democrats and Republicans must only compete for the votes of other Republicans within the boundaries incumbents have drawn for their own and their parties’ benefit. November victories are decided not by a vote of the people, but by a vote of 120 politicians when who drew the assembly district boundaries nearly a decade ago. Party activists – the folks who really turn out for primaries – seal these agreement every Spring.
There is no incentive for any politician in Sacramento to reach across the aisle, because the risk of a primary challenge to a perceived “maverick” is greater than the risk of losing in November. And there is no substantive political discourse in Sacramento because no one needs to satisfy any but he hardest of hard core party loyalist. Which is why – and this is just this year’s example – there is was state budget for nearly three months.
If the Republican Party’s mission is to elect more Republicans, then it’s Proposition 11, not Proposition 8, which matters most. If approved by the voters, Proposition 11 will take the power to draw political boundaries out of the hands of politicians.
With fairer, more competitive districts, both Democrats and Republicans will have to compete for the hearts and minds of the voters – real voters with real issues on their minds and – perish the thought- an interest in issues, not party loyalty. That can only be a good thing for the voters, and ultimately California.
Standing up for the voters’ right to choose their elected officials may not win any seats in November 2008 and it doesn’t give the party’s conservative base any quick-and-dirty talking points. But Proposition 11 will give Republicans a chance to make their case to voters in November 2018, November 2028 and beyond. And that, my friends, should be the mission of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.