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The Schwarzenegger slam dunk

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 7, 2005

Recall the caterwauling by Democrats when Republicans in Texas redrew the state's congressional districts, rather than allow a judicially imposed configuration to remain in place? Texas Republicans remained absolutely solid and ultimately made Texas Democrats look foolish, then petty and finally mean.

The Republican complaint was that the congressional districts in place, which had never been drawn by the Texas State Legislature as required by that state's constitution, sent more Democrats to the United States House of Representatives than Republicans, even though the state was strongly Republican at every level.

Mean old Tom Delay was supposed to have rammed grossly unfair new congressional district boundaries down the gullet of helpless Democrats, grossly abusing the majority power of Republicans in Texas (a process that never bothered Texas Democrats when they had the majority.)

We now know just how unfair these new boundaries were. In the November elections, President Bush received 61.09 percent of the vote compared with 38.22 percent for Senator Kerry. Translate these numbers into congressional seats for the two parties in the House congressional delegation and it equals 19.7 Republicans and 12.3 Democrats or 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats.

What was the actual breakdown of the Texas House congressional delegation after the dastardly Republican machinations? The good people of Texas sent 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats to the House of Representatives - which is closer to proportional representation than any other large state in the nation. Democrats lost seats in Texas, but the seats they lost reflected the strongly Republican leaning of Texans.

The Texas Legislature was not affected by the redistricting, but it is interesting to see how well that legislature reflects the partisan leanings of Texans. President Bush received 61.09 per cent of the popular vote, compared with 38.22 per cent for Senator Kerry. That would translate into a Texas House of Representatives with 92.4 Republicans to 47.6 Democrats, or 92 to 48. What is the current partisan breakdown of that chamber? There are 87 Republicans to 63 Democrats. When the percentages are applied to the Texas State Senate, those number exactly reflect the current partisan breakdown in the chamber of 19 Republicans to 12 Democrats.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing a reform in California which could make California politics much fairer and so, of course, grievously damage California Democrats. His proposal would not only affect congressional districts but also state legislative districts and it would be effective in time for the November 2006 general elections.

His reform has three major parts. First, districts would be drawn by a nonpartisan panel, rather than by the legislature itself. Second, neither party could have more than a 7 percent advantage in party registration in a district. Third, the districts would have to be geographically compact. The practical consequence of these would be that the California House congressional delegation and the California Legislature would, like their counterparts in Texas, reflect approximately the popularity of the presidential candidate in that state.

In the November election, Senator Kerry won California with 54.4 percent of the vote to 44.4 percent for President Bush. If those percentages were reflected in the California House congressional delegation, then California would have sent 29.1 Democrats to the House of Representatives to 23.9 Republicans or 29 to 24. How many Democrats and Republicans did California send to the House of Representatives under the current district boundaries, drawn by Democrats? California sent 35 Democrats and 18 Republicans.

The cost to Republicans, and to political fairness, of blatant Democrat gerrymandering was 6 congressional seats. That actually understates the scope of Democrat shenanigans. If Democrat Gary Condit had not gotten into trouble before the 2002 elections, Democrats would have shifted more Democrat voters out of his district and there would have been 36 or 37 Democrats from California.

The Schwarzenegger Plan will do more than simply add another six Republicans to the House of Representatives - providing, incidentally, Republicans with net gains of House seats in the 2006 midterm elections, just as Texas redistricting did in the 2004 elections. His plan will create a California Legislature much more reflective of the partisan composition of California.

If the presidential vote was reflected in the California Legislature, then Republicans would have 35.6 seats in its lower chamber and 17.8 seats in its upper chamber (or 36 seats and 18 seats) to 44.4 seats for Democrats in the lower chamber and 22.2 Democrats in the upper chamber. What is the current partisan breakdown of those two state legislative chambers? The lower house has 48 Democrats to 32 Republicans and the upper house has 25 Democrats to 15 Republicans.

Considering that the party standard bearers in 2006 will likely be Governor Schwarzenegger against a much less popular Democrat challenger, brand new congressional and state legislative districts might well elect more congressmen and state legislators who were Republican than Democrat.

Consider the impact if the vote was simply evenly split: Republicans would gain 8 to 9 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 8 seats in the California House of Representatives. In the California State Senate, the picture is even rosier in 2006 because the Senate class of 2004, which will not face the voters in 2006, broke almost evenly despite gerrymandering: the greatest vulnerability of California Democrats will be in 2006, when 14 Democrat State Senate seats will be up for reelection, compared to only 4 Republican State Senate seats.

Another brilliant aspect of the Schwarzenegger Plan is that it is almost impossible for people interested in good government to oppose. Almost no federal or state legislative elections in California are competitive anymore, because of gerrymandering. As I have noted in past articles, a majority of Californians in 2002 did not vote for Democrat candidates for statewide elective offices. Arnold can present his plan as a challenge to that minority of Californians who support the Democrat Party on behalf of the Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party, American Independent Party and Natural Law Party members who make up, collectively, a majority of Californians.

This plan almost compels Democrats in the California Legislature to stand against the reform, which will make them even more unpopular with California voters of all stripes and - like the Gray Davis Recall - it will put California Democrats in a "lose-lose" situation: oppose this reform - on what ground, one must wonder? - and then lose in a plebesite or support the reform and leave voters wondering why it took a Republican governor to get Democrats to enact this important change. The almost certain result: chaos and conflicting messages from Democrats in California.

Victory here followed by victory in November 2006, which could easily mean actually capturing the California State Legislature, could lead to a reform which would utterly change the complexion of the 2008 presidential election and make Republican victory almost certain: pass a statute which provides that presidential electors in California, except for two statewide, are chosen within congressional districts. That, alone, would have given President Bush 25 more electoral votes in 2004 and made it almost mathematically impossible for Kerry to have won the election.

Arnold is proving a very savvy politician. His reform is a very genuine reform and a very serious reform which will not only make him very popular within the Republican Party, but which will strengthen his appeal to independent voters and weaken California Democrats so much that he can make them think twice about crossing him again. This is very good news for the good guys and very bad news for Leftists.

Bruce Walker is a contributing editor with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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