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Our View: Redistricting reform needed in California

Gov. Schwarzenegger rightly raised the issue of redistricting reform again a few days ago. His latest proposal would take the power of drawing voting district lines out of state lawmakers' hands and letting a panel of private citizens make the decision.

Until more specifics are released, we'll withhold judgment on this plan. Schwarzenegger would have legislators nominate a pool of private citizens, from whom names would be randomly drawn to serve on a redistricting commission. It's the latest incarnation of at least three plans the governor has proposed in as many years. Voters in the November 2005 election rejected one of those ideas, letting a panel of three retired judges draw the boundaries.

Still, the reform is needed, and we laud the governor for continuing to push it.

The best reason to take the power of redistricting away from lawmakers is because they've abused it. Behind closed doors, both parties' bosses every decade draw districts so incumbents will continue to be re-elected. Because of this, few districts in California are competitive during elections, disenfranchising voters.

California's legislative districts now rival splotches of paint tossed at walls for their disorderliness. They rarely have any link to existing political, geographic or economic boundaries. Too often they're made of carved municipalities and crossed mountain ranges to the point that voters sometimes don't even known which district they're in.

While conservatives usually make the loudest calls for reform, Democrats need not worry about losing the Legistlature should an impartial panel draw lines. The majority of California voters still lean left. But more moderate Democrats and Republicans – the ones who aren't party bosses – likely would get elected because there would be more politically diluted districts. But that might finally break gridlock in Sacramento, not to mention be more reflective of state voters, who increasingly are registering themselves as independents.

Of course, lawmakers have everything to lose by giving up their redistricting power, so the governor will have to continue pressuring them for reform. Ultimately, though, voters themselves will have to approve any change through a measure that amends the state constitution.

Californians need not wait, however, for Sacramento to act. We can encourage lawmakers to co-operate with the governor in developing a viable, popular reform plan and then placing the measure on the ballot. That, of course, only will happen when lawmakers realize that their next re-election bid depends less on their district boundaries than their willingness to do what is right by state residents.

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