First, a confession: When Proposition 11, the intitiative to create an independent, citizens' redistricting commission in California, was placed on the ballot in 2008 I openly questioned the complex, Rube Golberg process it proposed for selecting commissioners. It ispelled out detailed conflict-of-interest provisions, created an open applications process, put the state auditor in charge of screening candidates and selecting a pool of finalists, gave legislative leaders the power to veto a handful of finalists, and ended with a lottery.
It was convoluted, but it accomplished something essential to protect the panel's independence: Other than giving legislative leaders the ability to blackball a few finalists, it completely shut elected officials out of the process.
As the redistricting process unfolded this spring and summer it was more than a little amusing to watch as frustrated politicians slowly began to realize that they were absolutely powerless to control, or even influence the process. The result, for better or worse, was a set of new maps that were exclusively the creation of an independent panel isolated from traditional partisan influence.
The importance of that was underscored this week in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer took advantage of a loophole in the law that created Arizona's independent redistricting panel to oust the chairwoman after Republicans in Congress objected to the draft Arizona maps. The state law there included a "gross misconduct" provision that allowed the governor and a two-thirds majority of the state senate to oust a commissioner. Proponents say it was put in as a safety valve to allow for the replacement of a commissioner in an extreme circumstance, such as clear ethical or legal misconduct.
But because one party controls both the governorship and a two-thirds majority of the Senate, the gross misconduct provision in Arizona created a loophole for partisans to take back the process from the independent commission.
My belated apologies to the drafters of Proposition 11. While their process for selecting commissioners was complicated and their rules for adopting maps were strict (approval by at least 3 of 5 Republican members, 3 of 5 Democratic members and 3 of 4 nonpartisan members), they did succeed in creating a process that completely excluded the professional politicians.
As the experience in Arizona demonstrates, the redistricting process is so important to the political class that if you give politicians a loophoile, they will exploit it.