The Unz/Miller Proposals
Republican Ron Unz and Democrat Tony Miller filed four possible plans for a general "political reform" initiative in March of 1999. They will choose one of them for the year 2000 primary ballot. All of the plans involve campaign funding; three of them include districting.
Democratic leaders have indicated that they will not support any changes in redistricting. Common Cause has decided against endorsing any of the plans.
Plans A and C would transfer all districting power from the California Legislature to a bipartisan commission of retired judges ("Special Masters"). Plan B would require a two-thirds super-majority vote of both houses of the state legislature (and the Governor's signature) to adopt any districting proposal. Plan D is a Statutory Initiative which would make no changes to the current Constitutional districting scheme.
The plans also vary on whether they will include a new Compensation Commission to set state legislative salaries. All of the plans include public funding of media advertising and campaign literature, new contribution limits, new disclosure requirements, fund-raising blackouts, and slate mailer restrictions.
The common elements of all the plans would re-instate the essence of Proposition 208, passed by the voters but discarded by a federal court as requiring undue restraint on campaign fundraising.
The two-thirds super-majority vote requirement for any districting plan, if it were approved by the voters, would have the singular effect of giving Republicans a veto over any proposal by Democrats. Aside from being a blatantly partisan attempt to avoid the consequences of last year's overwhelming Democrat victories, there are practical consequences from such a plan. To achieve the super-majority, the proposal would have to appease every incumbent. The only way to accomplish that objective is to ensure as many safe districts as possible. Any competitive element that might be stipulated would be window-dressing for an enforcement of the status-quo over the next decade. California voters rejected the super-majority proposal of Prop 118 (1990) by 67% of the vote.
The "Special Masters" proposal would present once again a Proposition that has been rejected three times by California voters. Proposition 14 (1982) lost by 64%; Prop 39 (1984) lost by 55%; Prop 119 (1990) lost by 64% of the vote. Although there are slight "tweeks" in the method of selecting judges, the Unz/Miller plans are essentially re-runs of these failed Propositions
The "Special Masters" districting method requires a Constitutional Amendment to skip the legislature and assign the project to a panel of eight retired judges appointed by partisan leaders of the two parties in each legislative house. A ninth would be selected by a majority of the eight appointed judges. The panel would have 180 days to spend one million dollars in public hearings and come to a decision on which of the proposals submitted or created would be adopted. The California Supreme Court would have another 60 days to respond to any legal challenges.
Previous court determinations on districting do not have an unsullied record of adopting objective and fair plans. The 1992 court admitted to creating several districts forpurely racial purposes. Court hearings are almost totally dominated by parties and incumbents who have the time, money, and resources to influence the outcome. Vague standards and political interests commonly trump objective districting rules.
Those plans that include districting itemize a list of various objective and vague criteria. Districts must be equal in population, contiguous, and compact, while also providing "fair and effective representation" for minorities and "to the extent practicable" preserve "identifiable communities of interest" and maximize the number of competitive districts.
Campaign Public Funding
The primary element of all the plans is the public funding of campaigns, essentially reinstating Proposition 208, which was discarded by a federal court as placing undue restraint on campaign fundraising. Roughly 25 million dollars is distributed to specified campaigns as media credits. The formula is prioritized to fund Proposition Advocates, the Gubernatorial campaigns, other statewide offices and Proposition Opponents on a first-come-first-served basis. Advocates of any ballot Proposition could get up to one million dollars each, but opponents would have to split up a total of one million dollars.
The methodology for acquiring credits depends on a sliding scale of public dollars matched to individual contributions. The formula is designed so that contributions from as few as 350 people could earn the full one million dollars in media credits. The funding formula appears to have been written by the two Proposition Advocates to be most beneficial to Proposition Advocates and least beneficial to Opponents.
Roughly another 15 million dollars is allocated for the distribution of four batches of direct mailing pieces to all registered voters. Any statewide campaign could include a flier in each of the packets, sent out at staggered intervals before each election. The packet mailings are given more weight by a host of special restrictions on private slate mailers. Oversized type announcing the sources of slate funding, complete details on the primary sponsors and an assortment of disclaimers would probably reduce or eliminate most independent voter solicitations.
All of the proposals set contribution limits for campaigns and ban corporate contributions. They also stipulate increased signature requirements for candidates who want to be eligible for public funding.
The Fair Vote 2K Project
The Unz/Miller proposal, even if it includes districting, will have no effect on the Fair Vote 2K proposal. Adoption of the FV2K Initiative at the general election would override any other provisions that might be adopted or rejected at the primary election. We believe voters will prefer a clean, objective, and fair districting method over any of the Unz/Miller proposals.