October 9, 2005
A Vote Against Ghost Voting
By Debra Saunders

If you need to put forward a reason to vote for Proposition 77, which would mandate that an independent judicial panel redraw the state's legislative and congressional districts as soon as 2006, consider Democratic state Sen. Carole Migden.

Last month, Migden was visiting the Assembly floor to push a pet bill. The bill was in trouble, so she leaned across the desk of GOP Assemblyman Guy Houston, who opposed the measure, and voted yes for him.

Houston's desk-mate changed the vote. Migden apologized. There, the ghost-voting story melts away.

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While do-good types have suggested that Sacramento leaders should ban Migden from the Assembly floor or, for greater effect, rob her of the chairmanship of the big-clout Senate Appropriations Committee, Migden didn't even get her hand slapped. A Migden aide explained, "Nothing has occurred relative to that matter after the incident of the apology." This is business as usual in the Capitol, and that means: See no evil.

The whole episode points out that cancer in Sacramento. It's not that the Legislature is weighted too heavily with Democrats, but that it is over-weighted with the worst Democrats. That is, Dems who have no respect for the rules and no fear of the voters.

These Dems are so out of touch that they recently passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage -- even though in 2000, 61 percent of voters elected to ban same-sex marriage and, by law, only voters can overturn that law. They're so out of touch that they passed a number of bills to allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. One such measure, passed in 2003, had absolutely no safeguards to prevent immigrants with criminal records from obtaining this gateway document.

When they realized how angry voters were, lawmakers actually rescinded the worst driver's license measure. If Californians were less safe, they didn't care.

When their careers were in jeopardy, they did care. The fact that they passed similar bills since then shows that they have no fear of losing leadership.

Voters end up with the worst Republicans, too.

That is, the ones who will never vote for a tax increase, but also won't vote to cut spending.

Even though they are in the minority, they make a point of not talking to Democrats. The result: budgets that don't control spending and don't provide the revenue to pay for new programs.

In 2002, GOP Assemblyman Keith Richman and Democrat Joe Canciamilla formed a group of lawmakers willing to talk to each other. Known as The Bipartisan Group, its core membership was eight -- out of 80 Assembly members, according to a key aide. At times, the rump has had to meet at a lawmakers' house, lest they be seen in the building talking to each other. That's right -- they couldn't be seen doing their jobs.

Of course, some good people win office, but they aren't in charge and they get lonely. Because legislative and congressional districts are carved heavily in favor of one party or the other, the candidates tend to be far left or far right. GOP consultant Allan Hoffenblum explained, "What happens in gerrymandering is, for the most part, they (those drawing the lines) remove the November elections. ... Then, the base of the parties tend to be dominant in determining who the nominee is."

As the party bases are more extreme than the general members, you get fewer moderates. "The moderates are not even coming forward anymore. The thrust of the campaign is, 'I'm more liberal,' or, 'I'm more conservative.'" "There is not even a moderate Democrat attempting to win in the 6th District," Hoffenblum noted of the Assembly district currently occupied by Marin Democrat Joe Nation, who can't run for re-election because of term limits. Why no centrist Dems? Because moderates are less likely to win a primary in a weighted district.

Do I think this is the best measure? Of course not. I think it's a mistake to put the new map before the voters for approval, and I don't like the cramped schedule the "special masters" -- the panel of three retired judges picked by both Democrats and Republicans to draw the lines -- will face.

That said, Proposition 77 beats the rigged districts drawn by craven politicians whose first goal is to protect their re-election and second goal might as well be to keep their parties completely out of touch with mainstream voters.

So Migden felt free to pull the lever of another elected official in a different legislative body -- and there is no penalty.

In Sacramento, where districts protect the most extreme and least scrupulous lawmakers, in a town where lawmakers have to sneak around -- lest they be seen talking to lawmakers from the other party -- rules were made to be broken.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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