Stop "Political Steroid" Use
Outrage spread through America when Major League Baseball players were found to have been injecting themselves with steroids, giving some players an unfair advantage over the competition. Fundamentally, the fans felt misled by the performance of those “juiced-up” players, and that hard work alone was not the primary reason for their statistics. Like Major League Baseball steroid use, a similar unfair advantage is taken by California incumbent politicians.
How? Simply put, politicians in the party controlling the state legislature can gerrymander legislative districts, “juicing-up” electoral results by drawing districts to cherry-pick voters of the same political affiliation, with little regard to whether those gerrymandered lines respect established communities and neighborhoods. Some politicians make “locker room deals” to lavish themselves and their Congressional colleagues with safe voter registration margins, denying voters the opportunity to truly hold politicians accountable through competitive elections. The American ideal of representative government relies on politicians winning based on the power of ideas, ability and trust - not solely party identification. It’s a perversion of that ideal when we allow politicians to win through unfair advantages, by injecting their own district with a large quantity of voters of the same political affiliation or, worse, “corking their bats” by cutting deals that perpetuate this unfair advantage in other districts to maximize the number of representatives of one party that is sent to Congress. Have we become too jaded to ask: Why should the interests of the incumbents or the political party outweigh the interests of the people?
It is vital that we bring accountability back to the ballot box. We can take an important step in restoring the principles of democratic representation to California by taking the power of drawing electoral districts out of the hands of the politicians and putting it in the hands of the citizens. The effort to empower the voters of California must overcome opposition from strong Republican and Democrat incumbent officeholders. But, like the 2003 recall election demonstrated, people can rise above the interests of entrenched politicians.
In order to reform our broken system, where politicians rig State and Congressional districts, we must enact three reforms. First, we must engage the voters, not the politicians, in this process by allowing genuinely independent citizens to draw fair districts, so that politicians with a vested self-interest are not crafting their own districts to freeze out challengers. Citizens should be selected independently and randomly, and not handpicked by the legislators whose districts they will draw. Second, there must be clear guidelines to ensure that counties, cities and neighborhoods are kept whole to the maximum extent feasible and not carved up to ensure a pre-determined advantage for a party or an incumbent. Finally, these reforms to make fair district lines must apply to all representative districts in California, including congressional races.
Like the fans of Major League Baseball, it’s time for people to speak out and demand accountability through a fair and open redistricting process. The power of ideas should drive our elections, not the unfair “juicing” of districts. All Californians must begin a serious dialogue of how to best reform our redistricting process, which is too little understood, but is a basic building block of the voters’ power over their elected officials. Let’s Play Ball …but let’s do it on a level playing field!
By Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Ranking Republican on the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections and former California State Assembly Republican Leader.