January 10, 2005 [LINK]

Schwarzenegger on Redistricting

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has called for a major reform in the way legislative district boundaries are drawn, assigning the task to a panel of retired judges. This would bring back meaningful competition in legislative races, where incumbents nearly always win.

Schwarzenegger ... noted that of the 153 seats in the California Congressional delegation and Legislature that were on the ballot in November, not one changed party hands.

"What kind of a democracy is that?" he asked in his address.

"The current system is rigged to benefit the interests of those in office and not those who put them there," he said. "We must reform it."

SOURCE: New York Times (via Donald Sensing); an analysis in the Washington Post suggests that Schwarzenegger may forfeit the bipartisan support he has enjoyed up till now. Indeed, even some of the Republicans (the minority in California) are leery about tackling such a sacred cow. I'm starting to admire the ambition and vision of Schwarzenegger, who seems to have a more substantial policy agenda than Jesse Ventura. (A movie coming in the next few weeks which focuses on his sordid early career in show business may take some of the luster off his image.) Anyway, fighting gerrymandering is one of my favorite (long shot) causes, but if Republicans fail to grab hold of such opportunities for much-needed reforms, they will once again become a minority party nationwide within a few years. And our country would then become even less democratic, ironically.

UPDATE: On the other hand, as most would argue, the Republicans would risk becoming a minority party as soon as 2006 if they were to take on too many high-risk "too hot to handle" issues, as Bush is doing with Social Security. It all depends on leadership at the top and communication between legislators and grass roots activists. If the GOP mobilizes its vast human resources in an effective manner and makes clear the connection between problems and proposed solutions, they can accomplish something truly historic during Bush's second term. However, if they sound the battle cry without having a clear strategy -- such as the Republicans in the Virginia legislature who were outmaneuvered by Governor Warner last year -- it will be like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Obviously, playing it safe and just tinkering with minor reforms is a very tempting option, but the underlying structural problems in our economy will get worse and worse unless something serious is done, and the Republicans would get blamed. So it's a question of either taking a calculated risk of losing in 2006 in order to achieve a monumental change in public policy on par with FDR's New Deal, or else clinging to power for the next two or three elections while frittering away the support of the conservative activists, thus setting the stage for a renewed march toward socialism under the Democrats.