Senate approves redistricting after wider reform effort fails
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would force lawmakers to relinquish the power to draw their own districts, a day after legislative leaders abandoned efforts to link redistricting and term-limit reform for the November ballot.
Despite the bill’s passage in one house, its fate in the Assembly was uncertain. Even if eventually passed by both chambers, the proposed constitutional amendment is a longshot for the fall election. Friday is the deadline for the Legislature to place measures on the ballot.
“It’s not going to be on this year’s ballot,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who supports the proposal but favors a two-year delay. “Our time has expired this year.”
Lawmakers draw their own legislative districts each decade after the new census. That lets them create safe Democratic and Republican districts, a situation that critics say reduces competition and adds to partisan divide in the Legislature.
The Senate’s 27-11 bipartisan vote surprised even supporters, who feared redistricting changes were dead for the year. On Tuesday, legislative leaders ended a last-minute attempt to craft a bill linking redistricting reform to changes in lawmakers’ term limits.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the collapse of that effort, but on Wednesday praised passage of the bill by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. The governor called for immediate Assembly action to end “an obvious conflict of interest.”
Lowenthal said the vote is the first time in the nation that a legislative body has voted to give up its redistricting power.
“This is an historic vote,” said Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, the bill’s co-author. It would “give to the people the authority and the power that should rightfully be theirs … rather than having the politicians pick the voters.”
The bill would shift the drawing of new legislative districts to an 11-member commission primarily selected by legislative leaders. Significant opposition remains over a provision requiring retired judges – who are mostly white males – to screen the pool of candidates for the Legislature.
Perata said that provision would have to be altered in the Assembly, which would hold hearings and send the amended measure back to the Senate for final approval. All that would have to happen by week’s end to meet the ballot deadline.
Lowenthal and Ashburn said they will push for quick Assembly action.
“Whether it’s on the 2006 or 2008 ballot, it has to get out of the Legislature this year,” Lowenthal said. “If we lose this momentum, it may never happen again.”