Redistricting Reform News
In the last couple of weeks, there have been big developments on redistricting reform in three states: California, Ohio and Colorado.In Calfornia, a state judge tossed a Schwarzenneger-backed redistricting initiative off the ballot for a November special election. A federal district judge stayed the order pending a hearing, but it doesn't look good for the much-hyped but (IMHO) flawed proposal, which mainly relies on a procedural mechanism of turning redistricting over to a panel of retired judges, without much in the way of new guidelines for map-drawing. Ah-nold has been negotiating with Assembly Democrats on a plan to displace the initiative with a legislatively sponsored reform plan, but there hasn't been much news about that of late.In Ohio, a group of good-government groups and (mostly Democratic) legislators are conducting a frantic and potentially successful petition drive (which must succeed by August 1) to get a package of three initiatives on the November 2005 ballot that includes a redistricting reform plan, along with a campaign finance reform effort and a provision seeking to de-politicize Ohio's highly suspect election administration system. The redistricting initiative is interesting: in sharp contrast to California's initiative, it places a very high premium on competitive districts (while respecting Voting Rights Act considerations), and essentially solicits a variety of plans that will be rated according to the extent that they create the maximum number of competitive congressional and state legislative districts, while ensuring overall partisan balance statewide. The package of reforms in Ohio is being fueled by widespread public disgust with the ongoing and ever-escalating news of scandals implicating the state's entrenched Republican leaders in the executive and legislative branches.And in Colorado, a three-judge federal panel yesterday rejected a suit by Republicans to reinstate a 2001 re-redistricting of congressional districts by what was then a GOP-controlled legislature. And though I haven't been able to find the opinion yet, it sounds like the judges expressed more than a little contempt for the Republicans' argument that their First Amendment rights were violated when a court drew an earlier map after the legislature failed to enact a plan, triggering a state constitutional ban on re-redistricting.Meanwhile, down in Florida, my informants say the effort there to get a package of redistricting reforms on the November 2006 ballot is rolling along nicely on a wave of positive newspaper editorial endorsements and a solid petition drive, led by former Education Secretary and Senate candidate Betty Castor. As in Ohio, the Florida reforms would take place immediately upon enactment. And if you recall that Florida and Ohio represent two of the five states (the others being Pennsylvania, Michigan, and thanks to the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003, the Lone Star State) whose peculiar map-drawing has had a lot to do with GOP control of the U.S. House, this is good news on both small-d and big-D democratic grounds.