Friday, August 19, 2011


In 1990, California voters grew weary of “career politicians” in the Legislature who often held office for decades with little competition and enacted the term limits initiative.  Opinions differ about whether it made legislators more or less responsive to the public.  Nevertheless, it radically shifted the balance of power in the legislative process and turned the institution upside down and inside out.

The public will soon learn if another reform empowering a voter-created panel of citizens, instead of the Legislature, to draw new congressional and legislative districts will end partisan gridlock.   After the 2000 census, Republicans and Democrats drew maps creating “safe seats” for incumbents and their party’s successors. 

There were unintended consequences.  The gerrymandering of district lines widened the ideological divisions between the parties.  Safe districts gave Republicans cover to oppose any tax increases in recent budget negotiations without risking re-election.  The disability community knows that hard-line stances led to “cuts only” budgets that are undermining California’s health and human services safety net.

Is there hope for change?  This week the California Citizens Redistricting Commission released new district maps after the 2010 census.  Some analysts believe Democrats could win two or more seats in both the Assembly and Senate.  If so, they would achieve the two-thirds majority needed to raise revenues and close tax loopholes without Republican votes.

Immediately afterwards, civil rights organizations filed lawsuits alleging that the maps violate Federal law by diluting the minority vote.  Republicans are also seeking a referendum overturning the maps if they gather 505,000 signatures.

However, raising revenues may also be altered by Proposition 14 of 2010 that requires the top two finishers in Primary Elections to compete the General Election, regardless of party. Reformers believe that candidates will be forced to be more moderate to attract voters. 

So, there are uncertainties whether a Democratic super-majority gives the disability community hope that future budgets could include revenues to offset cuts.  Voter initiatives often produce unexpected outcomes, as evidenced by the lack of experienced legislators and cohesive leadership term limits caused. 

It’s likely that Republicans will mobilize their base and entice Independents to support maintaining the same “no taxes” stance.  If both candidates in a runoff are moderates, they could also waver on tax increases out of fear losing votes. 

Moreover, the post-election results of President Obama’s ambitious campaign promises for reform shows that “HOPE” alone does not produce change.  The disability community must launch aggressive voter registration, education, and election day  turnout campaigns. 

We must convince the public that independent living achieves costs savings reducing states costs.  Equally important is the message that protecting the health and well being of our neighbors and communities reflects the best qualities of American society. 

Our fragile economy makes this a challenge.  People still expect government services, but don’t want any more taxes.  Yet, they need to understand it just doesn’t work that way in the real world.

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