By The Bakersfield Californian
The redistricting process that has so enlivened the political landscape of California this past year has managed to serve a useful secondary purpose. It has almost, but not quite, distracted us from one of the most difficult years for state governance in living memory.
The deliberations of the Citizens Redistricting Commission diverted some of our attention from a meltdown of epic and tragic proportions: the state's disinvestment in public higher education, brutal cuts in services without any new, balancing revenue, and an end to all pretense about pursuit of a greater common good. The commission's work gave us a morsel of hope, amid the dysfunction, that a shakeup -- any sort of shakeup -- might produce a Legislature that works better than the two warring, shortsighted lawmaking bodies we've got now.
But has redistricting been more than an encouraging diversion? Of course it has. Despite its faults, including the possibility that nuanced partisan agendas somehow infiltrated the process, the commission has essentially expelled the politicians from the self-dealing position they've enjoyed for decades. Someone else is in charge, and it's not the political elites.
Of California's new districts, state and congressional, a good number will have competitive races in next year's elections, certainly more than we could have expected had this process not taken place. That, along with the state's new top-two open primary system, which also kicks in next year, offers voters some promise of change.
And that is really what it boils down to for most California voters, no matter what their persuasion: Sacramento must change. We've heard the words "hope and change" paired before, only to be disappointed, but they're worthy aspirations just the same -- aspirations we must preserve if California is ever going to extricate itself from this mess. And the Citizens Redistricting Commission is, to a great extent, emblematic of that.
Give the commission credit for overcoming an assignment heavy with contradiction: Districts had to be compact, of roughly equal population, and drawn to preserve "communities of interest." And yet it had to create politically competitive districts where candidates would be forced to seek out the middle ground.
Essentially, the commission was itself asked to find middle ground amid that storm of conflicting directives -- sort of like what we need the Legislature, and Congress, to do. Did the commission succeed? We may soon know.