by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
November 29, 2004
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND THE 'SAFE SEAT' SCAM
SACRAMENTO -- To the embittered liberals who say Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's fundraising of $73,000 a day proves he's owned by special interests, my response is: Dear Guv, please keep raking in far more dough than Gray Davis.
Davis used his riches to re-elect himself. Schwarzenegger spends his cash fighting for issues on the ballot. Big difference - and a crucial one now that Schwarzenegger may launch the Political War of the Decade.
If Schwarzenegger decides to fight the sick scheme known as "safe seats," it will become an epic struggle against vast institutions who have ensured that voters get zero choices at the ballot - though few Californians realize it.
"Safe seats" are why none of California's 53 Congressional seats changed parties on Nov. 2 - a prediction made months before we voted. In Sacramento, "safe seats" are why none of 100 assembly or senate seats changed party hands.
We've become a despotic regime that predetermines its leaders. Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, says the "safe seats" scam gripping California is "worse than the Soviet Politburo used to be."
Eight times during the past 80 years, voters were asked to upend the awful system. Each time, voters were tricked by politicians into preserving it.
"They've used actors like Jack Lemmon to fight reform," says Stern. "But what if the reform side does the same thing this time, and ends up with Arnold Schwarzenegger on its side? Ha! I think it could finally succeed."
Most voters think that when they vote, they do so within a community of interest, based on geography, known as a "voting district."
How quaint. In fact, the legislature now uses computer programs to painstakingly divide voters block by block. They don't divide us based on shared communities, but on party registration. Republicans and Democrats are carefully separated, stuck in bizarrely shaped "voting districts" controlled by just one party.
Then, during the spring primary, the party that controls the rigged "district" carefully spoon-feeds its corralled voters a pre-selected candidate awash in special interest campaign funds. Usually, this well-funded party hack beats any normal person who hoped to represent the party. In November, because the district is stacked, the party hack who won the primary can't lose. Even if it's a bad candidate.
The most undemocratic district in California is the 23rd Congressional District, carefully drawn by the Democratic Party to ghettoize Democrats and exclude Republicans. Once represented by moderate Republican Michael Huffington, the vibrantly mixed district was reconfigured into a "Democrats only" district on the Central Coast, drawn to be so skinny - in order to exclude Republican voters - that some joke this congressional district "disappears at high tide." It will never elect a Republican, even if the Democratic candidate offered is inept. That's not democracy.
The Republicans also have safe seats. At the state legislative level, Senate District 15 was drawn to exclude Democrats and ensure a Republican victory. It stretches in a ridiculous manner from busy downtown San Josť to faraway Santa Maria, ignoring natural boundaries. But the majority Democrats have far more safe seats in the state legislature than do the Republicans because the Dems control the district-mapping decisions. For example, Senate District 23 was drawn to exclude Republicans and guarantee a Democrat. It stretches in a laughable manner from Farmer's Market on the tony and congested Westside of Los Angeles to the Latino farming town of Oxnard, two mountain ranges away.
One wag uttered this Orwellian maxim: "Voters no longer pick the candidate." Instead candidates "pick their voters." How creepy.
Upending this corrupt system falls to Schwarzenegger, a Republican. The Democrats won't act since the majority party draws up the phony voting districts in the first place. Just as in Texas, where a gleeful Republican majority drew horrifically gerrymandered districts, Democrats cynically carve up California.
Democratic leaders in Sacramento, such as outgoing (and out of touch) Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, are loudly crowing right now because no seats changed hands on Nov. 2.
They're so far gone that they openly celebrate this attack on democracy.
Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum notes, "Schwarzenegger will be opposed by every single incumbent politician from both sides of the political aisle because they all want to preserve their jobs, plus the usual Democratic special interests such as the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO, the trial lawyers, the nurses association - you name it!"
Word is that Schwarzenegger has assigned his top legal troubleshooter, attorney Daniel Kolkey, who has spearheaded the governor's difficult Indian gaming negotiations, to target the safe seats scam. The powerhouse Sacramento law firm of Nielsen-Merksamer, one of the most experienced at writing ballot measures, is also involved.
These are brainy folks, but they will be stridently opposed by a special interest crowd which abhors honest voting districts that include a rich mix of voters. Mixing the voters together by true geographic and community lines forces the candidates to compete over ideas.
Can't have that.
The late Jack Lemmon got sucked in by powerful, status quo Democrats. He made a commercial claiming that if the power to draw up their own districts was taken from legislators and handed to an independent panel of judges, the judiciary could be corrupted. Lemmon could never explain just how.
Recalls Hoffenblum, "[Former Assembly Speaker] Willie Brown later called that Lemmon tv spot one of the greatest con jobs of all time. Willie loved it."
In 1991, Gov. Pete Wilson challenged the latest absurd gerrymander drawn up by Democrats in the state legislature. The courts were asked to step in. Eventually, the California Supreme Court sided with Wilson and temporarily took the power away from the slimy California legislature. The court ordered an independent panel of special masters to create geographically and racially accurate voting districts. In several resulting mixed districts, Democrats and Republicans were forced to compete head-on.
This temporary outbreak of democracy inspired some non-hacks to run between 1992 and 2000. Californians, largely unaware of why they suddenly had choices, elected a wave of moderate to conservative Republicans and Latino Democrats.
Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, which is a nonpartisan elections analysis, notes: "People should remember that Latinos were elected to the Sacramento legislature in [the 1990's] in large numbers due to court plans - and never due to letting legislators draw [their own] districts."
Republicans didn't shut out Latinos by drawing phony voting districts. California's top Democratic leaders did that. Keep this sobering lesson in mind.
In 2001, the power reverted to scheming legislators to draw their own voting districts once again. Naturally, they created districts that look like demented Rorschach tests, and utterly one-sided ballots came roaring back.
The embittered lefties who want to take Schwarzenegger down a notch need to realize that this perverse system not only kept Latinos out of power, but is also used to marginalize parties like the Greens. Instead of bashing Arnold, they should pray that he keeps out-raising Davis. But that would mean the use of intelligence rather than insincerity and emotionalism by the political left in California. That's something I have rarely observed.
Clearly, the governor needs every dollar he can raise. Because those in power have demonstrated, for decades, that they will do anything to shut others out. Especially the voters themselves.