How new redistricting maps could reshape California politics
California handed redistricting to a nonpartisan commission to help break the state's chronic gridlock. The new political maps, it is becoming apparent, could do more than that.
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In Washington, where political power is often based on seniority, losing a single member of Congress can have an outsize impact. In this way, the redistricting might involve a tradeoff, says Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and author of “Jockeying for the American Presidency.”Skip to next paragraph
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More competitive districts tend to result in more legislative turnover, but that could work against Californians rising to the top of key congressional committees.
“Some voters want more say at the ballot box and they want their elected officials to pay attention to them, while some want their elected officials to be able to get things done in Congress," says Professor Brown. "The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but rare is legislator who is attuned to his/her district and senior enough to make his/her constituents' priorities the nation's concerns.”
In state elections, these more-competitive races, both in primaries and general elections, could help Democrats. Democrats are currently four seats away from a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Legislature (two seats in the Assembly and two in the Senate). The threshold is important because the Legislature can raise taxes only with a two-thirds vote.
“It’s not a slam dunk that Democrats will do this,” he says, noting some predictions that show the GOP could lose one-third of its seats in 2012 but get them back in 2014, depending on who runs.
The ferment, however, means that as many as 40 percent of state legislators could be rookies by the end of next year. That would likely diminish political competency, say observers.
“We lose a lot of expertise when people cycle through and then leave the legislature,” says Jessica Levinson, former director of political reform for the Center for Governmental Studies. Lobbyists have more opportunity to pressure novices, she adds.
“It’s an endless dinner buffet for lobbyists because the meal keeps changing,” says Ms. Levinson. “This is not because they are evil people but because their target legislators by definition have a less-entrenched perspective.”