Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

Redistricting: A Good Excuse for a Geography Lesson

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    NEWSLETTERS

    California's teachers and students are counting the days to the end of school. But instead of wasting these final moments of the school year, why not make some time in class for a special California geography lesson?

    This would be the perfect week for it.

    The newspapers are about to be full of maps of different regions of the state -- draft maps that are supposed to be produced by Friday by the much-touted California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is drawing new districts for the state Assembly, the state Senate and Congress.

    Redistricting supporters have claimed that this redrawing of districts will remake California's politics by creating more political competition -- and more moderates willing to compromise.

    That's total bunk.

    The public has grown more partisan, and Californians have sorted themselves into like-minded communities, so there's really no way for the commission to create many more competitive districts. (What's more, the commission isn't permitted to look at party data--so creating competition between the parties is pretty much off the table).

    But the maps the commission produces -- which are likely to start great debate and public comment, in advance of final maps in August -- do offer an opportunity for Californians to study their own geography.

    And maybe to rethink how we organize ourselves.

    Take in the maps and look at how California has seven big regions that are larger than many states, with their own economies.

    If California were a country, it'd be the 35th largest country in the world. The 34 countries larger than us all have regional governance -- but our regions aren't represented.

    And our legislature, the country's smallest on a per-capita basis, doesn't match our size, since the number of districts hasn't been increased since 1879.

    Each California legislator represents roughly 3 times more people than a lawmaker in the state's with the next largest districts (Texas), and 10 times more people than the national average.

    Redistricting won't do a thing to solve these problems -- or any of California's problems for that matter.

    But it's worth paying attention to the maps nonetheless -- if only to begin a conversation about how we could redesign government for the nation-state we are.