If not for being the most famous man ever criticized for redistricting his home state to screw his political opponents, who would ever remember the particulars about Elgridge Gerry
? If you don't believe us, click here
for a list of all the other signers of the Declaration of Independence. Only a couple of names of the small-time founding fathers jump out at us: John Hancock (who wrote big), Samuel Adams (Brewer, Patriot), and Gerry, who redrew the district lines in Massachusetts into salamander-shaped blobs -- hence the term "Gerrymandering."
In recent decades, safe, Gerrymandered districts have allowed for more and more partisan Democrats and Republicans to take office; take California's latest round of budget wrangling as a tangible indicator of what this can lead to. Is there any fair way to draw district lines? Common sense says no, but Common Cause
says yes. Along with the League of Women Voters, the good-government group California Common Cause authored and pushed Proposition 11 on the last state ballot, which passed with just under 51 percent of the vote.
The proposition will establish a supposedly non-partisan commission to redraw the state's district lines -- and San Franciscans' first chance to get onto that commission is tomorrow at the State Building, 455 Golden Gate Ave. (oddly, the state seems to be angling for retirees, the unemployed, or ne'er-do-wells to draw up the districts as the meeting runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a working day).
Here's how it works: A series of meetings will be held throughout the state to enlist would-be district drawers. A commission will be put in place by next year, and, with census data in hand in 2011, the drawing will commence. There will be 14 commissioners selected "randomly" from a pool of 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans, and 20 folks from other parties or no party. Of course, the term "randomly" is a bit euphamistic here.
Trudy Schafer, the Sacramento-based program director with the state League of Women Voters, notes that the first eight commissioners will be "randomly" selected from the pools -- but only in so much that the "random" selections must choose three Dems, three GOPs, and three of the Whigs/Libertarians/Decline To States.
"One of the major goals of the commission is to look like the people of California -- ethnically, geographically, and politically," says Schafer -- who laughs when told that the term "Schafermander" does indeed roll off the tongue.
Schafer noted that she and her fellow organizers never considered making this into an elimination game show -- that's what comes of working in Sacto and not Los Angeles -- though "some of the many conference calls that went into the drafting of this legislation were almost as bad as that."
Here's wishing her and the process the best. Though if organizers really want the commission to "look like the people of California," they'll get an interesting demographic from the San Franciscans who show up in the midst of a workday.