By Jonathan Mehta Stein
Californians cannot wait any longer for fair representation. The horrific scandal currently unfolding in Los Angeles has unearthed the inner workings of morally bankrupt politicians who abuse our systems of government to elevate their own power at the expense of the people. When bigotry and power intersect, as they have here, we must address both the racism and the broken political systems that protect corrupt elected officials and enable them to hold on to power.
This week, a conversation between three LA City leaders, held during the City’s redistricting process, was leaked to the public. It revealed the leader’s racist comments and their plan to manipulate the City’s redistricting process for their own political gain. The recordings show what the redistricting process looks like behind closed doors and has rightfully spurred disgust and distrust.
Angelenos, and all Californians, deserve more from their government than being used as pawns in a game of political chess. Luckily for us, we have solutions.
When incumbent politicians are in charge of redistricting and get to draw the political districts in which they run for reelection, they can gerrymander. This means they can choose for themselves the voters, the communities, and the community assets that will enable them to fundraise big campaign contributions and guarantee themselves reelection. This is exactly what the LA City leaders were plotting in the leaked audio recording.
California has pioneered a different way. We were the first state in the nation to establish an independent redistricting commission to draw our congressional and state legislative district maps, with a mandate in the state constitution to fulfill that role transparently and fairly. The state’s redistricting commission, run by regular folks from our communities instead of by political actors, must listen to the public and must be free of political interference. After two redistricting cycles, the state’s redistricting commission has been a massive success, hearing from tens of thousands of regular Californians, producing fair maps, and keeping our district maps out of nasty legal wrangling in the courts.
Following the state redistricting commission’s lead, cities and counties around California have adopted independent redistricting commissions, too. California Common Cause watchdogged the redistricting processes of over 60 cities, counties, and school boards in 2020-2022. All of the most participatory, most inclusive, most transparent, and most fair processes were all run by independent redistricting commissions. All of the most manipulative, most self-serving, and least participatory processes were all run by sitting incumbents.
The City Council must move now to create an independent redistricting commission or put one before voters to approve on the 2024 ballot. And the City of LA has models all around it. The independent redistricting commissions used by the state, LA County, and the City of Long Beach all drew new district maps with integrity and based on the will of the people.
But we should go further. Every Californian deserves voting maps that are drawn in the best interest of our neighborhoods and communities, not of those in power. Every Californian deserves to know that when new district lines are drawn at the beginning of each decade, their voices matter and that manipulation is not happening behind closed doors.
We support independent redistricting commissions at every level of government throughout the state. This would take power back from the powerful and give it back to the people, where it belongs.
Decades of power-hungry local officials on both sides of the political aisle slicing and dicing our communities to keep themselves in power have hurt our families, our neighborhoods, and our futures. This has resulted in unfinished neighborhoods, inequitably distributed resources, and lost potential for countless communities throughout the state – most often communities of color and immigrant communities.
As the leaked LA tapes show, a partisan redistricting process run by incumbents lets this happen and fuels the systemic racism that deprives communities of color of the power and representation they deserve. Only an independent redistricting commission, in LA and in all communities, can ensure that elected officials are held fully accountable to their constituents, that power and resources are distributed equitably, and that our voices truly matter.