Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Unopposed Candidate

The incumbent's dream: going into an election with no one to run against. Absent a corruption scandal, such an incumbent knows that he or she has a job forever (or until retirement, whichever comes first), so not only does he or she not have to campaign, he or she doesn't really have to do anything while serving. While this might be healthy for the incumbent, it certainly isn't for the constituents that incumbent is supposed to be serving. In California, this scenario isn't a rare anomaly, thanks to the 2000 redistricting, it's a pretty common thing. The LA Times takes note of this state of affairs in an editorial published today.

Because of a cynical bipartisan agreement after the 2000 census, Democrats and Republicans represent frequently convoluted geographical footprints meticulously designed, it would seem, to ensure that no incumbent party will ever lose another election, no matter which way the political winds are blowing. In 2004, for example, not a single one of the 153 redrawn congressional, Assembly or state Senate seats changed political hands, and only three of the 53 House victors won with less than 60% of the vote.

Having carved out their spoils, Yalta-like, the two parties are loath to venture into each other's territories, even with polls showing that people want change. The cities of Diamond Bar, Chino and Rowland Heights all voted for Al Gore in 2000, and the Italy-shaped 42nd District that envelops them abuts the land-splotches of Democrats Linda T. Sanchez, Joe Baca and Grace F. Napolitano, yet no Democrat bothered to muster the 3,000 signatures necessary to take on Miller. One-candidate elections are supposed to be for fiefdoms like Myanmar, or the city of Vernon.

What is so disturbing about this state of affairs is that even when the incumbent steps down, the only real race to fill that seat occurs in the primary as members of the same party fight it out to take over the fiefdom for as long as they choose to serve. Given the shifting demographics in California, this is hardly healthy. The editorialist suggests the obvious solution to this:

The solution to this unseemly state of affairs remains simple — put redistricting in the hands of retired judges, just like it was in the 1990s, and stop letting the major parties define the terms for their own cartel. Alas, voters turned down such a reform in last year's special election. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still committed to an overhaul of the redistricting process, and we wish him well. It'd be a shame to let California devolve into 53 one-party states.

The electorate turned away that reform in the last election only because it was part of the governor's package of propositions and the public was both tired of having to do the legislature's work and sick of the governor's refusal to deal with the legislature in any kind of meaningful way. A few more editorials like this, however, and such a reform just might be in the cards. One would hope so.


Post a Comment

<< Home