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Posts Tagged ‘gerrymandering’



Phony Poll Critique; Why We All Can’t Just Get Along

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Strategists, spokes- people, pollsters and purse-carriers for Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina all went berserk over the weekend, trying desperately to shoot down a new poll by the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California showing Jerry Brown ahead of eMeg, 49-44% in the governor’s race, and Barbara Boxer crushing Hurricane Carly,  51-43% in the Senate contest.

Their big complaint was that the LAT/USC poll over-represented Democrats and under-represented Republicans and thus was skewed. They compared it to the recent Field Poll that found the governor’s race tied at 41% and Boxer with just a 6-point lead over Fiorina.

But their argument is baloney, and they know it because Calbuzz and the Times told them the actual partisan composition of the survey before they put out email memos and tweets designed to confuse and bamboozle readers.

Here are the facts. The charts in the first version of the LA Times story showed the partisan composition of the survey based on party identification — that is, a question asked of respondents: Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat or what?

By that measure, 54% of respondents said they think of themselves as Democrats and 39% said Republican. But that had nothing to do with the actual make-up of the likely voter sample in the survey.

The pool of respondents was taken from actual voter lists; those identified as likely voters had voted in previous elections (or were newly registered voters) who also expressed some measure of enthusiasm about voting in November. When these controls were applied, the likely voter sample contained 44% Democrats, 36% Republicans, 16% declines-to-state and 3% others.

That’s exactly what a likely voter sample should look like. In fact, it’s one percentage point more Republican than the Field Poll, which had 44% Democrats and 35% Republicans. On its updated web page, The Times explained it as follows:

For the Los Angeles Times/USC poll, the likely voter model is based on two factors — previous vote history and expressed enthusiasm for voting this year. That model yields a likely electorate that is considerably more Republican than the full pool of California voters because Republicans are far more likely this year to say they are enthusiastic about voting. The pool of likely voters is 44% registered Democrats, 36% registered Republicans and 16% registered as Decline to State. That eight-point spread between registered Democrats and Republicans compares to a 13-percentage point spread in the electorate as a whole. Additional details are at http://gqrr.com/index.php?ID=2520.

Despite this, Whitman’s pollsters, David Hill and John McLaughlin, sent out a memo comparing the Field Poll’s sample (based on registered voters) with four different possible calculations of likely voters done for the LAT/USC survey. Only problem: None of them were actually used by the LA Times in their story that showed Brown and Boxer leading (and they weren’t the basis of the poll’s sample).

The biggest difference between the Field Poll and the LAT/USC survey is that Field found Brown beating Whitman among Latinos just 43-40% based on 97 interviews weighted down to 90 cases. The LAT/USC survey had Latino Decisions survey 400 Latino registered voters and weighted them down to 122 cases (14.6%) among 838 likely voters. (To track this down, you have to go to page 343 of the crosstabs!) This yielded a much more robust (and probably realistic) Latino sample than the Field Poll had and the result was Brown over Whitman 51-32% and Boxer over Fiorina 60-22%.

Bottom line: Calbuzz sez LAT/USC poll is reliable and solid. Stop whining. It’s just 5 points and the margin or error was 3.3%.

Why the Bias Against Compromise Cripples California

The following post appeared today in the Los Angeles Times.

As earnest pundits decry the shortage of moderate centrists and bemoan the partisan polarization afflicting governance from Sacramento to Washington, most Americans now appear to prefer stubbornness over consensus.

Vigorous debate followed by principled compromise — the political attitude and approach that long made representative democracy work – no longer finds favor among a large plurality of voters, according to a surprising new national survey.

The findings add yet another layer of troubling evidence to suggest that the dysfunctional dynamic that grips and gridlocks state government will persist, regardless of whether Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman becomes California’s next governor.

By 49-42%, Americans favor “political leaders who stick to their position without compromise” over those “who make compromises with someone they disagree with,” according to the survey by the Pew Research Center conducted for National Journal and the Society for Human Resource Management.

There are clear differences in the findings for the major political parties: Democrats embrace compromise, 54-39%, while Republicans stand against, by 62-33%. Most startling, however, is that independents – whom conventional wisdom holds will favor less partisan political centrism – strongly embrace the anti-compromise position, 53-40%.

“This is further evidence that the current political atmosphere is not merely contentious, but hostile to any hope of negotiated settlements to the many political and policy differences that define the current landscape,” wrote National Journal’s Major Garrett.

“In essence,” he said, the survey “suggests a confrontational mood in the country that may mirror the partisan wrangling in Washington and might even give trumped-up cable TV’s political spout-fests some rationale for their vein-popping intensity.”

That’s quite a statement, coming from the truly fair and balanced former political reporter for Fox News, who recently fled the hyper-partisan cable network to return to print journalism.

While the findings are national, reflecting the emergence of the Tea Party and its passionate celebration of anti-government intransigence, the data also shed light on Sacramento’s politics of dysfunction.*

Popular opposition to the very notion of  “compromise” — a concept that appears to sound like a weakness to many voters –  adds one more confounding entry to a familiar list of structural flaws that undercut governance in California: a wayward initiative system, a boom and bust taxation set-up, the Proposition 13 straitjacket, a super-majority requirement for passage of a budget, plus gerrymandering and term limits.

This nexus of political and economic factors has eroded the authority and effectiveness of historic power centers within the state Capitol and so enfeebled “leadership” that no one can enforce a deal to forge solutions to intractable policy problems. Just passing a budget has become a Herculean challenge.

In the current political atmosphere, every lawmaker is essentially an army of one – and none of them need fear the governor, the speaker or any other leader. Gerrymandered districts all but guarantee most incumbents reelection, while term limits offer a perverse incentive for cynical self-promotion in furtherance of individual ambition over cooperative collaboration in service of the public interest.

With every lawmaker essentially a free agent short-timer, seeking from their first days in Sacramento a pathway up the ladder, it is most often lobbyists who retain institutional memory and remain the only long-playing experts on complex issues.  That the latter control and direct an obscene flow of campaign contributions adds a layer of soft corruption to the process.

Just as term limits, since its 1990 passage, has framed a system discouraging compromise, so the redrawing of political boundaries following the 2000 census has shaped a political process encouraging partisan gamesmanship.

With legislative districts blatantly designed to ensure the victory of a Democrat in one and a Republican in another, the party primary, not the general election, became the crucial political contest.  This process heavily favored, alternately, the most liberal or the most conservative ideologue who could motivate his party’s base in traditionally low-turnout primaries.

Thus the politicians arriving in Sacramento typically represent the left and right wings of their parties. Far from thinking about the interests of California as a whole, their only concern is servicing their districts, an arrangement offering no inducement to compromise on anything

Voters have taken steps to reform this situation — passing an initiative in 2008 installing an independent commission to oversee reapportionment and approving an initiative in June that reduces the importance of party in primary elections. It is instructive, however, that legislative Democrats and Republicans found rare agreement in efforts to undo both measures, sponsoring a November proposition to seize back the Legislature’s control of redistricting and mounting an aggressive legal challenge to the “open primary” plan.

So while Brown’s big idea in the governor’s race has been a promise to summon all 120 legislators immediately after the election and apply sweet reason to their bitter differences, and Whitman vows she’ll veto most of their bills and lock them in a room until she gets her way, the plain fact is that neither will have much of a chance to find common ground with the opposition party unless some fundamental changes are made.

This will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, at a time when large numbers of voters equate compromise with capitulation.

*(The new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll offers a glimmer of hope for California, finding that voters by a 2-1 margin say they’d prefer a governor “who can work effectively with others across party lines” to one who “is single-minded and will fight for what he or she thinks is correct.”

Democrats, moderates and liberals are most in favor of a governor who works with the opposition, but even Republicans and conservatives would rather have a governor who can work effectively across party lines.

The problem in Sacramento, however, has not been finding a governor who will work across party lines; the problem is finding enough legislators who will work with the governor.)

Yes: Candidates Will Have to Appeal to Independents

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

By Lou Cannon
Special to Calbuzz

California’s political system is broken. Hamstrung by unbending partisanship and the requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass a budget or a tax increase, a dysfunctional Legislature has persistently failed to deal with the state’s pressing problems or its debilitating structural deficit.

Reformers have responded with grandiose proposals for change, such as a constitutional convention, which have come to naught. Since the Legislature and the major political parties resist any and all reforms, Californians who want to take back their state have no choice except to make a series of incremental changes through the initiative process.

The first useful step in this process came in 2008, when voters approved Proposition 11, which will take redistricting out of the hands of the legislators and vest it in a citizen’s commission. The new districts will be drawn after this year’s census for the 2012 election. The next step is to pass Proposition 14, opening up elections so that the top two candidates in the primary, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This provision would apply to most state and federal elective offices but not to presidential primaries.

Proposition 11 and Proposition 14 are best understood as companion pieces. Proposition 11 was needed because legislators protect their careers at the expense of the rest of us by gerrymandering their districts to protect themselves and their parties. The cozy, one-sided districts they created assured that there would be no competition in the general election. This effectively disenfranchised independents (known as “declines-to-state” in California), most of whom do not participate in the primaries. It also tended to drive both major parties to extremes.

Liberals have a disproportionate advantage in the Democratic primaries, conservatives an even more decisive edge in most GOP primaries. Moderates in either party who might appeal to independents in the general election had so little chance in the primaries that most of them chose not to run. As a result, many Democratic officeholders tend to be reflexively liberal—or at least in thrall to the public employee unions who finance them. Many Republicans, on the other hand, are rigid conservatives who stand ready to block even the most reasonable budget if it contains a whiff of a tax hike.

For the past decade, budget compromises have occurred only when a GOP legislator broke with his party on tax issues. The occasional courageous Republican who did so incurred the wrath of his party and often the loss of his job.

Anyone old enough (as I am) to remember the creativity of the California legislature in the mid-20th Century, when it was acclaimed as the best in the nation, can’t help being appalled by the present collection of ideologues and party hacks. Proposition 14 could change this by greatly increasing the number of independent-minded moderates in the candidate pool. Every voter would receive the same ballot, putting independents on an equal footing with party regulars.

Such a ballot might also encourage the parties to forth candidates of broad appeal to assure themselves a spot on the November ballot. There is, of course, no special virtue to being a moderate. On any given issue moderates can be as wrong (or right) as liberals or conservatives. But Proposition 14 would level the playing field. Polls show that some 40 percent of the voters consider themselves to be moderates, and they are conspicuously underrepresented in Sacramento. Proposition 14 is an incremental reform that would give sensible centrists a chance.

Lou Cannon of Santa Barbara is the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan in the world, and a former political writer for the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News.

Why Arnold’s “Legacy” Claim is a Fraud

Monday, July 27th, 2009

arnoldcigarThe day before the Legislature passed the third patchwork version of California’s budget in 10 months, Gov. Schwarzenegger took to “Flashreport,” the state’s leading conservative web site, to claim “a huge win.”

“(T)he biggest winner to emerge from our negotiations is California,” the governor bragged, “our state’s legacy, its priorities, and its budget stability.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong!!

Schwarzenegger’s triumphalist braying was little more than a one-step-ahead-of-the-posse exercise in spin control, a pathetically transparent bid to establish a positive narrative for the budget disaster over which he’s presided, in hopes that voters and his suck-up pals in the national media will buy his story without bothering to check it out.

(NOTE TO NATIONAL POLITICAL WRITERS: Schwarzenegger did NOT solve or stabilize California’s budget. Despite his assertion to the contrary, his budget – passed in February and now revised twice – actually RAISED TAXES by $12.5 BILLION. With the latest revision, he threw off enough ballast to keep his hot air balloon afloat but in no particular direction.)

As Fred Keeley, the elected treasurer of Santa Cruz County, put it:

“The governor set the standard when he said, at the start of the process, that this needs to be a complete solution. And then he violated his own standard by signing a budget which doesn’t solve the problem this year or next year and in fact, according to the Legislative Analyst and the Department of Finance, is going to create a multi-billion-dollar deficit next year.”

Keeley knows wherearnoldbuckof he speaks. He served on the Assembly Budget Committee for six years, was asked by former Gov. Gray Davis to be Finance Director and is a Senate appointee to the Governor’s 21st Century Commission on the Economy.

In truth, Arnold’s entire tenure has been one continuous failure of leadership. This is just the latest chapter.

From his first days in office (when he sowed the seeds of today’s never-ending fiscal crisis by his irresponsible cut in the vehicle license fee) to his ill-considered $15 billion borrowing bond (which helped make interest payments the fastest growing item in the budget) and his current shameful spending plan (which gives the University of California a major push into mediocrity while continuing the slow death of K-12 education and punishing the aged, blind and disabled), he has been little more than a narcissistic, tone-deaf poseur, surrounded by sycophants and devoid of principle or conviction.

At a time when the state’s economy is hemorrhaging, its schools failing and roads crumbling, Schwarzenegger has been utterly ineffective in explaining to Californians the reasons behind the problems we face, and even less so in proposing innovative solutions to any of them. His little touchdown dance about the current budget belies the painful truth that this is nothing but a stop-gap maneuver designed to escape the embarrassment of issuing IOUs and con the credit markets into a few months of cash to ease the state’s borrowing jones.

Schwarzenegger’s soaring claims about the wonders worked by his budget fail on three grounds:

1. It’s a short term fix. Amid all the high-fives and chest bumps in the governor’s circle, it’s important to recall that the latest budget plan comes just five months after the last one, which came only five months before the previous. In other words, California has had three budgets in less than a year and, given current revenue trends, it’s all but certain that Arnold and the gang will be back in the fall for yet another round of all-nighters. Filled with gimmicks, borrowing and Grand Theft from schools and local government, the “huge win” for California being trumpeted by Schwarzenegger is nothing but more of the same old same old.

2. It does nothing to address the state’s dysfunction. As Calbuzz has reported the ongoing budget mess is a symptom of a far more fundamental disorder – a state of permanent ideological gridlock shaped by term limits, gerrymandering and three decades worth of wrong-headed initiatives. The latest “drama” over the budget is just another re-run of Groundhog Day, and it will keep re-playing and replaying until the pols in the Capitol acknowledge and accept the need for fundamental reforms, and find the cojones and the political skill to sell them to their constituents across the state.

3. It will probably make things worse. While it is true that the state for years has had a structural deficit, caused by the governor and the Legislature’s effort to defy the laws of arithmetic, it is also true that the huge magnitude of the current deficit is overwhelmingly caused by the current recession, which slashed state revenues by nearly one-third in one year, reducing tax collections to the level of a decade ago. The bursting of the real estate bubble, and the structural decline of the economy that has followed it has put the entire state economy into treacherous territory that may yet turn into a full-blown depression.

Under these conditions, there’s a strong argument to be made that wholesale cuts that the budget delivers will make the recession more punishing: as layoffs of public employee push the unemployment rate higher, furloughed state workers spend less, as all the programs set up to help with those who fall on hard economic times are cut back at the very moment they’re needed most.

As Calbuzz reported about the latest forecast by California economist Bill Watkins: “California’s budget issues are likely to be made worse by continuing economic decline. Perversely, the budget then negatively feeds back into the economy. The problem is not likely to see relief, at least in terms of increased revenues, before late 2011.”

Counterpoint: Why A Conservative Backs Term Limits

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Afterfleischman Calbuzz posted Bob Naylor’s piece last week on why conservatives ought to oppose term limits, our friend Jon Fleischman at the Flashreport asked for an opportunity to tell Calbuzzers why a conservative might want to be for them. Although we’ve argued that term limits are one of the structural impediments to making California governable, we thought we’d give Jon a chance to argue otherwise to our readers.

By Jon Fleischman
Special to Calbuzz

When I first got involved in politics, at the age of nearly 20, I remember traveling to the Capitol and meeting and seeing a lot of state legislators.  The most overwhelming thought that I carried away from that first trip was the realization that a whole lot of them had been serving in the Legislature since before I was born.  I remember, along with so many others, looking with awe at Speaker Willie Brown, who was as close to king as you could get in California.  And I remember being repulsed at a political process that could place so much power in the hands of one of 80 members of the California Assembly.

As I became a little more seasoned politico, it became obvious to me that the Legislature was completely out of touch with the “real people” of California.  And while I knew term-limits would not solve all of those problems, I supported Proposition 140 in 1990 because there should never be a phenomenon like we had with Willie Brown again – California royalty.

I certainly agree with Bob Naylor who penned a column for CalBuzz last week, that there are a lot of problems with the state Legislature. But I disagree entirely that these problems are as a result of term limits.

If you want to look to some of the reasons why our Legislature is broken I suggest we look a few of the major contributors to that dysfunction.

•    The legislature should be part-time, not full-time.  There would likely be less allure to serving for decades in the legislature if serving were not a full-time job.  In addition, the full-time legislature becomes “the Devil’s workshop” as so many politicians justify their full-time salaries through the creation of thousands and thousands of unnecessary pieces of legislation every year, over-legislating and over-regulating our state.

•    The gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts to advantage the majority party is nothing short of scandalous, and certainly has led to a Legislature that is out of touch with the people of the state (witness this last May’s rejection of more taxes as a recent example).

•    With the massive population of California, legislative districts have become too large.  California State Senators represent substantially larger districts than members of Congress!  With districts so large, it makes it that much more difficult for legislators to be held accountable to their constituents.

•    Then there is the issue of the insane money advantage for incumbents.  On an overwhelming level, the money that is contributed for candidates running for the Legislature comes not from average citizens with a strong interest in seeing good, ordinary people like themselves represent them in Sacramento. Instead the money that funds campaigns for Democrats and Republicans alike mostly comes from special interest groups that seek to manipulate state laws and regulations to their advantage –- interests ranging from public employee union and trial lawyers to major corporations.  Add to this that the major political parties routinely support incumbents of their party for re-election, supplying even more resources contributed to the parties by those same special interests.

Clearly term limits alone as a reform cannot offset these four major problems plaguing the Legislature. But I would submit they play a positive role in ensuring that power in Sacramento does not become centralized in the hands of career politicians like some of the people that Bob holds out in his piece as examples of great legislators – such as “King” Willie Brown himself.

I agree that the more time spent in the Legislature, the more experience one has. But this advantage is more than offset by the growing detachment of career politicians from the “real world,”  and the absence of a need to live under the laws they create.

In his column, Bob Naylor asserts that, “If a legislator has mastered the political art well enough to deserve another term, the people of that district should have the right to grant it.”

That sounds nice in print, but as a practical matter, because of all of the factors I outlined above, it is almost impossible, short of a scandal, to find examples of incumbent officeholders losing their campaigns for re-election.  In fact, if it were not for term-limits, we would return right back to the pre-Proposition 140 era – with legislators serving for more than 30, 30 or even 40 years – safely ensconced in taxpayer supplied jobs, never having to worry about the impacts of the laws their create on the economy in which they would need to find a job after leaving the Legislature.

The challenger to an incumbent officeholder faces almost an impossible task in a general election. And good luck trying to unseat a legislator in a primary.  It is only the existence of term limits that ensures that every eight years in the Senate, and every six years in the Assembly, there will be an open seat and an opportunity for the voters to have a real impact on their representation in Sacramento.

Term limits exist today because the people do not want a state Legislature that is “above them” – but rather they want elected officials that are “from them” – their co-workers, their neighbors, their friends from church or temple.  It was the era of full-time legislators that brought us campaign slush funds, lavish pensions and the trappings of “royalty” that made it clear that those long-time politicians had lost touch with the people they were supposed to represent.

Bob says that he would favor returning to a system without any term limits – invoking the model of the Founding Fathers.  I have no doubt that if those brave first Americans could have seen that our federal government would grow so grotesquely in size and scope, and that serving in the Congress would become a lifetime career with great pay and outrageous benefits, they would have instituted term limits in the United States Constitution.

When California has a part-time legislature, smaller and fairly drawn legislative districts, and we have figured out how to increase the political giving of regular citizens to a degree that it severely reduces the terrible influence of those seeking advantage from government – then I will entertain a serious discussion about whether the need for term limits remains.  Until then, I would much prefer a steady flow of citizen-politicians in and out of the Legislature than a return to the days of elected California royalty.  Based on the failure of all of the attempts to eliminate or weaken California’s legislative term-limits, apparently I am not alone.

Jon Fleishman is publisher of the FlashReport website on California politics and vice chairman (South) of the California Republican Party

Why Conservatives Should Be Against Term Limits

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

By Bob Naylorbobnaylor
Special to Calbuzz

First, a confession. I served in the California Legislature for eight years. I am a Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan Republican. I termed myself out by running for higher office (and losing). I voted for term limits.

As Pete Wilson likes to say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Turns out, it’s a very bad idea. What made it seem like a good idea?

1. “Citizen legislators, not career politicians.”

That is the slogan from the website of U.S. Term Limits, where I searched in vain for any other philosophical justification.

There are some sad cases of career politicians  — especially when they cling to office too long, like Senator Robert Byrd, or the California equivalent, the late Senator Ralph Dills, who was first elected in 1939 and served continuously (except for a few years on the bench) into the ’90s, when he was termed out of office. His last campaign slogan was:   “Too old to quit.”

But for every old hack forced out by term limits, there are at least as many people who are superbly competent, bright and balanced with profound institutional and policy knowledge.

Examples include the late Senator Ken Maddy, moderate Democratic Senator Bob Presley, Senator Jim Brulte, and I would argue, Speaker Willie Brown, at whom the term limits initiative was aimed (Brown was at his best getting difficult budgets through for Republican governors).

Furthermore, “citizen legislators” are few and far between. Most new legislators have served for years in local office or are well connected as union organizers or are staff members to the incumbents or other influential officeholders. Some are independently wealthy. There aren‛t many “Mr. or Ms. Smiths” going to Sacramento.

2. Overcoming the artificial advantage of gerrymandering.

We don’t need term limits to do that because we have Prop 11 (redistricting commission), right? But Prop 11 will not likely make a big difference. Eighty per cent or more of all districts will still be safe seats, because our body politic is geographically polarized — red counties and blue counties, hardly any purple counties.

3. Incumbent advantage.

I used to argue that elections are never really competitive because incumbents raise lots of money, have a big name ID advantage, typically have safe districts whether gerrymandered or not and get a handsome salary while they are campaigning. Challengers rarely have a chance.

But what has happened under term limits? Because the stakes are so high, the existing incumbent or the local political party establishment recruits the successor and forces competition to drop out. There are fewer competitive primaries than there are complete blowouts, often no primary at all.

So term limits have not produced competitive elections or many citizen legislators, but the reason conservatives should oppose term limits has more to do with their negative impacts.

They have made our politics even more polarized. In place of people who are secure and long-serving enough to say no to their “anchor tenant” backers when the good of the state demands it, we now have people who are worried about their next primary election when they try to move up after one or two more terms. From their first day in office, they typically tow the line of the unions, or the trial lawyers, or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who dominate the low-turnout partisan primaries.

When the Legislature is polarized, the majority ideology is in total control. And in California, that means the left. The art of finding enough middle ground to do what is necessary to meet a crisis, whether it be attacking the budget problems, the water crisis, or infrastructure decay, is almost a historic relic.

It is also a simple fact that two to four years in office are just not enough time to master the political complexities of a 120 member bicameral Legislature, let alone attain the policy expertise that has marked the great legislators. First term chairs of major policy committees, sometimes bringing in their own all-new staff, can rarely match the skill of a Bill Lockyer as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, or Quentin Kopp as chair of Transportation. There are exceptional performers, of course, but they overcome huge, and generally harmful barriers artificially imposed by the cheap slogans of the term limits movement.

On balance, the Legislature as an institution for policy-making has nearly broken down. Ask anyone who has been around the Capitol for a long time.

As a conservative, I favor returning to the model of the Founding Fathers. The original constitutional qualifications for office are being a citizen, a resident and of age. There are plenty of other checks and balances without adding term limits. In California, we have added the recall and the referendum to restrain legislative abuse.

If a legislator has mastered the political art well enough to deserve another term, the people of that district should have the right to grant it.

Bob Naylor served in the California Assembly from 1978 -86, as Assembly Republican Leader from 1982 -84 and as California Republican Party Chairman from 1987 -89. He is a partner at Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller and Naylor.