Commentary Magazine


RE: Two Big Losers: Obama and Gerrymandering

John, it is certainly the case that ultra-gerrymandered districts have left California House races largely uncompetitive. Living in California for nearly 40 years — in several locations — I never saw a competitive House race. But as bad as the gerrymandering is, there’s another more fundamental reason for uncompetitive seats: to a large degree Californians have segregated themselves by geography.

Even if all the districts were in nice rectangular shapes, rather than the grotesque shapes resembling dragons and other mythical creatures, you still would have loads of safe seats — Democrats in the larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, with Republicans in rural areas and the outer suburbs. In their informative book California Crackup, Joe Mathews and Mark Paul tell us:

“Redistricting is limited in its capacity to create a heavily competitive state,” wrote Bruce E. Cain, California’s leading scholar of redistricting, in a 2008 study. California’s new political geography, with Democrats controlling the coast and Republicans dominating inland areas, affords few chances to draw competitive districts. There are no Republican seats to be conjured up in the Bay Area, no Democratic seats in the Sierra or northern Sacramento Valley.

In fact, to make districts more ideologically balanced, you might want to draw even more creative district lines.

The solution, if there is one, is for the disenchanted to vote with their feet. They are already doing so in record numbers, thereby reducing California’s revenue, population, and eventually its electoral wattage. In the meantime, the new Congress should take a vow: no bailouts for California. Let Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer figure out how to get their state out of a ditch — with no help from the rest of the American taxpayers.