Monday, October 13, 2003

The anti-tax activist who originated the campaign to recall California Gov. Gray Davis already is planning to go back to the ballot box with another reform measure.

This time, however, Ted Costa wants to overhaul the state’s redistricting system, a notoriously partisan process that has helped preserve Democratic majorities — and protect Republican incumbents — in the Legislature and Congress for decades.

“People are hurting in California, not just because of Gray Davis, but because of the partisan gerrymandering and lack of leadership at the top,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who’s heading up the effort with Mr. Costa.

The proposal would allow state legislators to submit redistricting maps for review by a court or nonpartisan panel. The panel would be required to choose the plan that keeps cities, counties and communities together with the fewest fragments.

Critics complained that the 2000 redistricting process saw the approval of a map where communities were splintered in the name of protecting incumbents. Only one of the state’s 53 congressional seats was seriously contested in the 2002 election, according to the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.

“Right now, we have a bipartisan gerrymander in California,” said Mr. Costa, chief executive officer of the People’s Advocate, the Sacramento-based conservative anti-tax group founded by the late Paul Gann.

“Under our plan, both parties, instead of being all lovey-dovey, will have a chance to put their platforms before the voters, and you’ll have a real election with real issues,” he said.

Mr. Nunes added that incumbent security is “worse than ever now because of the bipartisan gerrymander. Both sides sold out to protect seats, and in my opinion, that’s not fair to the people.”

The initiative, now in the drafting stage, is slated to be made public within the next few weeks. If enough signatures are gathered, the measure would appear on the November 2004 ballot.

Organizers expect a flood of opposition from some lawmakers and politicos, but they’re counting on one powerful ally. Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the current redistricting process during his campaign, saying districts should be “drawn for the benefit of the voters, not politicians.”

His campaign called for a constitutional amendment that would place reapportionment decisions in the hands of a three-judge panel, which would be chosen by lottery from a pool of retired appellate judges.

“Politicians should not control the pen to draw districts that shield themselves against competition,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a position paper.

The “recall Davis” campaign, which received a huge boost when U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa poured $1.7 million of his personal fortune into the recall effort, was a success, but Mr. Costa has an impressive track record on other recall votes as well.

The People’s Advocate, which Mr. Costa heads, counts victories in 10 of 13 ballot measures, starting with Proposition 13 in 1978, the property tax limitation measure.

Mr. Costa said he hasn’t yet talked to the governor-elect, and although he supported Republican Tom McClintock in the gubernatorial recall, he has high hopes for Mr. Schwarzenegger.

“He’s got a chance to be the great reformer,” Mr. Costa said. “I’m hoping that our grandchildren will look back and talk about the great Schwarzenegger reforms of ‘03.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger did offer thanks to Carl Burton, a member of People’s Advocate. Mr. Burton said he met the Austrian-born actor at a campaign appearance earlier this month.

Mr. Burton was one of a half-dozen activists who served the recall petition to Mr. Davis’ office in February.

“When I told him I was the person who carried the recall petition to the governor, he turned around, grabbed me by the shoulders and hugged me,” Mr. Burton said.

According to Mr. Burton, Mr. Schwarzenegger then drew laughter by alluding to a movie in which he co-starred with Danny DeVito.

“I’m rather short and stout,” said Mr. Burton. “So he said, ‘The two of us, we could do a remake of ‘Twins.’”

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