State Senate candidate Hannah-Beth Jackson bucked Democratic Party leader Don Perata and came out in favor of Prop 11, the statewide ballot that would take the power to redraw district lines out of the lands of state politicians and into the hands of a specially created 14-person citizens committee.
Given Jackson’s unhappy history both with the most recent redistricting effort – and her notorious poor relations with Perata – her endorsement should come as little surprise. “Politicians should not be drawing their own districts,” Jackson said in a press release. “It is an obvious and inherent conflict of interest.”
Her opponent in her race, Republican Tony Strickland, has also endorsed Prop. 11, which is being pushed by a coalition of good government types including the League of Women Voters, AARP, Common Cause, and several business groups as well. Strickland’s argument mirrored Jackson’s. “When a bill affects a legislator’s income directly, they’re supposed to recuse themselves,” said Stickland press spokesperson Matt Guthrie. “Nothing affects a legislator’s income so dramatically as the district lines.”
Few politicians have been so dramatically and adversely affected by the most recent redistricting exercise, which happened eight years ago, as Jackson. Then a member of the State Assembly about to be term-limited out, Jackson, a liberal Democrat from Montecito, had every reason to expect she might run for the Senate seat then about to be vacated by Democrat Jack O’Connell, who is now Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The first priority of that redistricting effort – now derisively known as the “Incumbent Protection Act” – was to gerrymander the new boundaries to the benefit of the existing office holders. Conservative districts got more conservative; liberal districts got more liberal. For some, like Democratic Congressmember Lois Capps, the new district lines all but gave her a lifetime title to the post which she could – and reportedly almost did – bequeath to her daughter. Likewise Santa Barbara’s Assembly seat, now occupied by Pedro Nava, became so impregnable that Nava is now in the process of bequeathing the position to his wife, noted environmental activist Susan Jordan.
Jackson was not so fortunate. Because no Santa Barbara incumbent was technically occupying the senate seat – with O’Connell moving on and Jackson not having quite moved in – the legislative leadership felt free to effectively erase Santa Barbara’s Senate seat. Under the new scheme, Santa Barbara was moved into the 19th District, then an intensely conservative district epicentered in Thousand Oaks and represented by Republican Tom McClintock, the flamboyantly theatrical arch-conservative now term-limited out of office and running for Congress in Northern California.
Jackson’s misfortune stemmed, in part, out of her inability to get along with the “good old boys” who comprised the legislative leadership of her own party, like now-retired war horse John Burton or his successor Don Perata. The leadership was much more focused on creating a safe seat for Central Valley Democrat Dennis Cardoza, and by achieving that end, there was not enough give left in the map-making process to protect Jackson or fellow Democrat Fred Keeley from Santa Cruz.
Ironically, Cardoza would never take the seat, even though so much effort – and such unwilling sacrifice – had been expended on his behalf. At that time, Democratic Congressmember Gary Condit of Ceres found himself engulfed in the Chandra Levy scandal – the intern with whom he’d had a sexual relationship who was found strangled to death – and was forced to resign. Cardoza wound up running for Congress to replace Condit and won.
In the interim, Santa Barbara County – which had enjoyed stellar representation in the State Senate from the likes of Democrats Jack O’Connell and Gary Hart, and before that from Republican Robert Lagomarsino – found itself a district without much representation. While McClintock is well known for his biting wit and rhetorical panache, he is likewise not known for strong constituent service. In addition, his political views on many matters are out of sync with mainstream political sentiment throughout much of Santa Barbara.
Now Jackson, known as a feisty liberal, is squaring off against Strickland, a staunch conservative and McClintock’s hand-picked successor. Despite the most recent redistricting effort, the 19th District has changed both demographically and ideologically. While hardly as liberal as Santa Barbara’s former Senate district, it’s not nearly as conservative as it was a few years ago. Because of that, it’s regarded as the only genuinely contested race in the entire state of California.
If passed, Prop. 11 would create a 14-member panel of citizen volunteers – made up of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four nonpartisans – to redraw the district map for California Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization districts. It would not, however, affect the congressional district boundaries.
It’s been endorsed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and many of the state’s bigger newspapers, who blame the “Incumbent Protection Act” in part for the gridlock now seizing Sacramento this year. The practical effect of the most recent redistricting, they claim, has been to promote and encourage a hard-line partisan intransigence by members of all parties. Since the last redistricting, not one district has changed its party representation. The real action takes place at the primary level, and the conventional wisdom holds that primaries are dominated by more ideologically strident politicos who appeal to raw passions of the party faithful. More moderate candidates who can appeal to a broader swath of voters typically fare poorly in such contests.
The only committee to oppose Prop. 11 thus far is Citizens for Accountability – “No on the Power Grab” – headed by Senate President pro Tem Don Perata. Perata has been under attack by Prop. 11 advocates this week for accepting a $577,000 campaign contribution by the prison guards union. The prison guards rank as one of Sacramento’s most potent and feared special interests, and they are lobbying for a pay increase while thousands of state workers face the prospect of involuntary furloughs, cuts backs, and lay-offs.