Opinion: California's Redistricting - An Effort Turned Corrupt

I spent much of the last few days sleeping, fending off some sort of illness, but I was sickened even more by a report coming out of California. Added to the backdrop of recent polling showing that the American people are more and more disgusted with our representatives in Washington, and the two major political parties, perhaps the following should hit me the same as so many other disappointing actions made by our "leaders".

Election Reform advocates had a handful of things to be happy about in last year's elections, among them the passage of nonpartisan redistricting panels in California. The panel was made into law to take the process of redistricting away from the Democrats who've controlled it for decades, through the state legislature, and was fought tooth and nail by those who appeared to have the most to lose. The Democrats saw this as a threat to their sure fire bank account of votes from California, and after losing to the will of the people of California, the Democrats began looking for ways to continue gaming the system.

Not only did they succeed, they managed to find ways to game the new system into pulling even more districts seen as safe Democratic seats than there were before. This the result of an investigation by the excellent investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica.

If it weren't so repugnant, I'd be impressed with the workaround the Democrats came up with. You see... these panels were to get the information necessary to decide where to draw the lines for this decade's districts from regular people from the communities themselves, so the state Democratic Party, with help from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee drummed up millions of dollars to commit what I can only describe as a grand fraud. Much like an attorney can coach a guilty criminal in ways to lie most effectively to get the verdict they want in court, they gathered party supporters, elected officials, union workers and supportive community organizations to testify on their behalf in front of this panel.

Unlike in a court of law, however, the Democratic operatives instructed these people to not disclose their affiliations, pretend they were just ordinary, unaffiliated Californians. Some even apparently outright lied about who they were. Let me stress this to be clear. The California Democrats, aided by the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, coached supporters, who then flooded into these panels, to hide aspects of who they were in an attempt to continue gerrymandering their state through other means.

The thought occurs to me that I may not have been asleep long enough. According to Gallup, 70 percent of the American people, including 75 percent of independents like myself, can't wait for the election season to be over. I am quite addicted to politics, but I certainly feel the same way. Since college I've gone on a roller coaster of loving politics, getting deeply involved, being sorely disappointed and then hating it so much that I drop out. Invariably I get pulled back in, like the three quarters of the American people who have to look past their disgust for what they see in Washington and pull the proverbial lever for this year's lesser evil du jour. It's just in my wiring, and as a country we can't avoid the circus of selecting our representatives.

I think much of the reason this particular case in California is eliciting more disgust than is usual in cases similar to this for me is I thought there might have been a breakthrough here. I thought we'd get something better. But like the landmark McCain-Feingold election reforms that banned soft money contributions to the parties coming up on 10 years ago, political operatives found a way to slime their way around them. McCain-Feingold weakened the ability of parties to raise mountains of money, but is a direct precursor to the situation we're in now, where organizations with even less legal accountability than political parties are able to raise unlimited funds, without any donor disclosure. In this case, a reform meant to  the finely tuned political machines that have an iron grip on our system found a way to slime their way around this rule in the space of a few months.

The ultimate hope is that we'll learn, set up new roadblocks for corruption to have to find ways around, and next time around make things better. Between now and the next redistricting, hopefully more states will have signed on to nonpartisan redistricting panels. One would also hope that they will have also learned from California's lesson, and attempt to come up with ways to make it more difficult to game the system for any side. Off the top of my head, they could choose representative and well known experts with no known partisan affiliations, and randomly select people to represent certain demographics in regions, not unlike jury duty.

Fighting corruption isn't something that can be merely solved in one fell swoop with a piece of ingenious legislation. I read perhaps dozens of posts that thought the passage of the nonpartisan redistricting panel in California would be a watershed moment, and look what has actually come of it. Corrupting forces will constantly be looking for ways around the roadblocks set in their way, and we just have to adapt. Things are better than they have been at certain times in the past, and they can get better if we keep at it.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.