Steve Forbes: Modern Rotten Boroughs

September 15, 2005

California Entrepreneur Bill Mundell—founder and CEO of Vidyah, a leading private educational organization–is spearheading a citizens’ effort to attack one of the major corrupters of American politics today: gerrymandering. Thanks to high tech, politicians can now establish district lines that effectively make elections for state legislatures and for the House of Representatives uncompetitive. In California last November not one incumbent was defeated in elections for the state legislature or Congress. Not one of the 153 seats up for grabs–53 congressional seats and 100 in the state legislature–changed party hands. As has often been observed, the U.S. is becoming a democracy in which the politicians choose the voters rather than the other way around. Aside from a handful of notable exceptions such as Iowa, states more or less follow California’s Soviet-style approach to drawing voting district lines. Mundell chairs Californians for Fair Redistricting, which is pushing for passage this November of Proposition 77, the Voter Empowerment Act. The initiative would establish a nonpartisan panel of judges to draw competitive and compact district lines. No longer would boundaries resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. Competition would be restored–and with it infinitely greater accountability. You’d think that with more and more pols ensconced in safe districts, they’d act more responsibly. Quite the opposite–special interests have gained more influence, and spending has reached irresponsible proportions. Gerrymandering is one reason California politics has become so dysfunctional. Needed reforms are dead-on-arrival in the state legislature. It’s no wonder that Proposition 77 is despised by most Golden State politicos. California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer tried throwing Proposition 77 off the ballot on minor technicalities. Fortunately the state Supreme Court blocked Lockyer’s insidiously cynical maneuver, and Proposition 77 is back on the ballot. If successful, this initiative will set an inspiring precedent for similar redistricting reform efforts in the rest of the country. And Mundell will rightly become a political force to be reckoned with.

Previous post:

Next post: