Arnold had the right idea about redistricting
Published November 13th 2005 in The Herald News
The loud "splat" heard from out west Tuesday wasn't Wile E. Coyote doing a head-on with a Mack truck. It was strongman California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger getting flattened by a horde of angry voters, who shouted a resounding "no" to eight ballot measures, including four enthusiastically backed by the governor.

Most of the initiatives were strictly California matters, and their rejection had as much to do with Schwarzenegger's war with state labor unions as anything. There was one ballot measure, Proposition 77, that deserved a closer look because it speaks to a national issue that threatens democracy as we know it.

It is congressional redistricting and partisan gerrymandering, a problem with which New Jersey voters are all too well aware.

It's made mincemeat of competitive congressional and legislative districts, carving them along purely political lines. It's the reason that 90 percent of incumbent U.S. House members always win re-election, and it's why there were only a handful of competitive General Assembly seats contested in New Jersey Tuesday.

A recent essay by nonprofit advocacy group described unfair redistricting as "a blood sport that both parties have exploited." To see just how ugly it can get, cast an eye south toward Texas and watch the cutthroat goings-on surrounding the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Sadly, it's not just a Texas problem, and DeLay's not the only bad guy.

"By gerrymandering the districts," writes FairVote, "legislators and their political cronies have used redistricting to choose their voters, before voters have had the opportunity to choose them."

Incumbents expect to have some advantage when it comes to campaigning. Still, we have gone far afield from what the framers of the Constitution intended in representative government. More and more, voters are being served by the self-served.

California's Proposition 77 might not have taken politics out of the equation entirely, but handing redistricting duties over to a panel of retired judges would have been at least an attempt at reform. A similar measure, Issue 4, which called for a more independent redistricting panel in Ohio, also failed by a huge margin on Tuesday.

It's an issue that deserves more attention, nationally and statewide. Legislators will be more likely to govern responsibly if they know constituents are watching, and know they hold the power to toss them out.

Politicians like to talk about accountability; redistricting reform would be a good place to start.