Blocking Moderates

Political analysts agree on one thing: The Nov. 2, 2004, California congressional and state legislative elections were the most anti-demo-cratic and frightening results yet of the so-called “safe seats” scheme, in which the winners are known long before Election Day.

Thanks to the “safe seats” scheme, none of California’s 53 congressional seats changed from Republican to Democrat or vice versa on Nov. 2. Nor did any of the 100 Sacramento legislative seats up for grabs. In fact, the outcomes were almost all known months earlier because voters have become irrelevant.

That’s not choice or democracy, it’s tyranny. But the “safe seats” scheme has festered because the media fails to explain what “gerrymandering” is and how it hurts democracy.

Simply put, leaders of the Democratic Party and Republican Party in California cut a deal between themselves, behind closed doors, in which they agreed to carefully separate voters into blocs of Democrats and blocs of Republicans. After separating voters block by block, they drew lines around us on a map and called the crazy resulting shapes “voting districts.”

Once herded into “voting districts,” we were then spoon-fed a pre-selected insider from either the Democratic or Republican Party who had absolutely no chance of losing — no chance — on Nov. 2. This ensured that the politicians didn’t have to compete on ideas, vision or policy in order to win our votes.

If you live in the Los Angeles coastal strip, when you went to your polling place Nov. 2, you saw very, very few Republicans voting. And not just because fewer Republicans live among the coastal types. Republicans have been ghettoized into specially drawn “voting districts” so their pesky votes won’t disrupt the preset plan by a pre-anointed Democrat to grab the political office in your area.

On the other hand, if you live in the Inland Empire, when you walked into your polling place you rarely brushed past a Democrat. Sure, Democrats live among the inlander types. But they’ve been ghettoized into specially drawn “voting districts” so that their pesky votes don’t disrupt the preset plan by a pre-anointed Republican to grab the political office in your area.

It’s pure corruption, although no money changes hands. A civic figure in Los Angeles once uttered this Orwellian truism: “Voters no longer pick the candidate.” Instead, candidates wielding block-by-block computer modeling “pick their voters.” It almost makes your skin crawl.

Horrified by the Orwellian state legislative and congressional results on Nov. 2, Ted Costa of the People’s Advocate, who launched the Gray Davis recall, is linking up with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others to stop politicians from divvying us up. They will fight to pass a ballot measure that hands this job of “redistricting” to a panel of nonpartisan judges.

Republican consultant Arnold Steinberg says past reform efforts have been stopped at the ballot box by huge Democratic spending campaigns. “In theory, a new measure for safe seats does have potential but it has to be well-drafted and with a competent campaign this time,” says Steinberg. “My optimism is guarded.”

If it does succeed, political moderates who have long been absent from California politics will run for office in the resulting “mixed” voting districts based on natural geography.

Why should you care? For one thing, a nascent movement of pro-business, pro-choice, moderate Republican Jews in California political life is likely to take off like a rocket.

In 2002, Robert Levy, a pro-choice Jewish Republican, ran for the House of Representatives in the 27th District in the San Fernando Valley. One of four moderate Republican Jews who ran in Los Angeles that year, Levy lost to Jewish Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman.

Levy, a longtime lawyer who volunteered as a judge pro tempore in the Superior Court of Los Angeles, boasted an impressive resume, years of service, fresh ideas and an engaging personality. And not a prayer of winning.

Levy couldn’t get serious press coverage. The Los Angeles media correctly prejudged that, despite Levy’s obvious appeal, a Republican could not possibly win the “safe” Democrat-gerrymandered 27th District.

Sherman, Levy’s rival, told me in 2002 that he was “scared at first” by Levy’s credentials. But after the media marginalized Levy, Sherman raised $450,000 to Levy’s $20,000 in campaign funds. Sherman won long before voters ever voted.

Connie Friedman and Michael J. Wissot were other moderate Jewish Republicans who ran in the San Fernando Valley and got shut out, beat by partisan liberal Democrats Lloyd Levine and Fran Pavley. But remember, safe seats also keep moderate Democrats from having any chance to win in carefully gerrymandered Republican areas, such as in the San Joaquin Valley.

Safe seats have created a terrible divide. Most members of the House of Representatives from California, as well as the 120 members of the Sacramento state Legislature, grew increasingly hard left and hard right. They were handpicked for office by the uncompromising special-interest groups who drew up the mapping lines that herded voters into our separate worlds.

It’s a pretty neat setup.

Because Jews play a much larger role in California politics than their modest population would suggest, if voters agree with Schwarzenegger and Costa to halt the gerrymandering, California will see moderate Jewish Republicans increasingly hankering for their place in the sun.

Jill Stewart is a syndicated political columnist. She can be reached at