Schwarzenegger Pushes Calif. Redistricting During Visit to Capitol

Posted February 17, 2005 at 3:34pm

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) brought his crusade for redistricting reform into the belly of the beast today: the U.S. Capitol.

Schwarzenegger spent the day in Washington, D.C., principally to discuss the federal budget with Congressional leaders, President Bush and other White House officials.

But Schwarzenegger’s proposal to redraw the state’s Congressional and legislative maps before the 2006 elections inevitably became a topic of conversation wherever he went. He was scheduled to end the day with an appearance at the offices of Common Cause, the government watchdog group that has often spoken out about redistricting reform.

On Capitol Hill, Schwarzenegger was peppered with questions about his plan during a private meeting with the 20 Republican Members of California’s House delegation, many of whom expressed reservations about redistricting reform.

Schwarzenegger wants to take redistricting responsibilities away from the state Legislature and place it with a panel of retired judges, arguing that such a process would produce many more competitive districts than self-interested legislators currently do.

But the most controversial element of the plan — and one that a majority of the state’s GOP Members apparently oppose — is his desire to put the new system into effect immediately by requiring a remap before the 2006 elections.

The meeting with the Republican delegation “was an opportunity for individual members to put forth their points of view, which [included] both sides of the issue,” said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.).

But Schwarzenegger insisted that redistricting reform must happen immediately, regardless of the political consequences.

“You have to understand that the people of California did not send me to Sacramento to support the Democrats or the Republicans,” he told reporters after a meeting with all 55 Members of the state delegation this afternoon. “They sent me to Sacramento to clean house … I feel personally that the districts are not drawn the right way.”

The governor apparently won at least one convert: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), previously considered a foe of the governor’s reform ideas, told colleagues that he now supports them. He joins Republican Reps. Darrell Issa, Dan Lungren, Devin Nunes and Bill Thomas as public supporters.

Lungren said it is wrong to characterize the rest of the delegation as opposing the plan, given the varied points of view.

“I’ve heard that five are for and 15 are against. That isn’t accurate,” he said. “Five are for.”

Lungren conceded, however: “I wouldn’t say we have a quorum on our side.”

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, continue to say very little about Schwarzenegger’s plan, leaving the real task of opposing it to Democratic legislative leaders in Sacramento. After first worrying that redistricting reform could chip away at the Democrats’ 33-20 edge in California, Democratic Members of the state delegation have apparently concluded that re-redistricting would not dramatically alter the state’s partisan balance.

“Reapportionment was not a topic of discussion at all” during Schwarzenegger’s meeting with the full delegation, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the state’s Democratic delegation.

“The districts have nothing to do with the parties,” Schwarzenegger said.