Time to apportion districtsCalifornians fed up with 50 years of Democratic gerrymandering in legislative apportionment have initiated a measure for the November election that would take the 2010 reapportionment away from the Legislature and give it to an independent 14-member commission. A similar proposal was defeated in 2005.
By: Lloyd Omdahl, The Jamestown Sun
Californians fed up with 50 years of Democratic gerrymandering in legislative apportionment have initiated a measure for the November election that would take the 2010 reapportionment away from the Legislature and give it to an independent 14-member commission. A similar proposal was defeated in 2005.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has rallied the support of AARP, Common Cause and a few other “good government” groups to support the measure because “districts created by an independent commission would make races more competitive and possibly lead to more moderate representation.”
While most North Dakotans may feel that 2008 is a little early to be thinking about the reapportionment that will occur following the 2010 federal census, legislators elected this year in the even-numbered legislative districts for 4-year terms will be involved in redividing the legislative districts in 2011.
What Democrats have been doing in California, Republicans have been doing in North Dakota. In order to save political friends and punish enemies, the 2001 Assembly drew lines with precision. With the goal of keeping as many Democrats out of the Legislature as possible, at least eight meandering districts violated the constitutional requirement for compactness.
This doesn’t make Republicans any more ethics-deprived than Democrats. Across the country, malicious malapportionment is standard procedure. In California, they know that the Democrats are not going to divest themselves of power voluntarily. Change will come only from outside of the Legislature. The same is true in North Dakota.
To protect the integrity of representative government, legislatures should not be empowered to manipulate their own power configurations. Legislatures should be designed for the people and not for those holding legislative offices.
Reform of the apportionment process in North Dakota has not been seriously discussed since the 1970-72 Constitutional Convention. After wrestling with a variety of proposals, the convention recommended a reapportionment commission of citizens appointed by the state’s district judges. The idea was to remove the process as far from the Legislature and partisan politics as possible. The constitution was defeated.
Because legislatures will not delegate apportionment to independent commissions, most states have found that having the Republicans in control of one chamber and Democrats the other forces compromises that result in greater fairness. This would be the scenario for the 2011 reapportionment if North Dakota Democrats gained control of the Senate by winning three more seats in the November election. However, this seems unlikely since most of the Republican senators up in 2008 are in safe Republican districts.
Fortunately, malapportionment doesn’t have the same policy consequences in North Dakota as it does in many other states because the North Dakota Legislature, even though chosen in partisan elections, is substantially nonpartisan. There is a broader consensus on public issues in North Dakota than is found in many other states. Even so, malapportionment should not be accepted as the norm in a republic.
(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)