Don Perata, President pro Tem of the California Senate, talks to PT about the forces driving the campaign for legislative redistricting.
PT: There's a sense that people feel government isn't addressing the real day-to-day problems that people face, such as roads, healthcare, and education. Is there a connection?
Perata: There's a disconnection. Californians desperately want us to get to work on the problems they're facing, like education, transportation and healthcare. For better or worse, governors and what they put on the agenda take center stage - and there's an awful lot we could have done and I think would have done if we didn't have this special election hanging over our heads.
PT: Would you say that people across ethnic, geographic and partisan lines are represented accurately under the current system?
Perata: I don't think anyone has ever drawn a perfect set of districts. There's a need for reform, but Prop. 77 isn't the reform we need. I don't think we're going to do better having three unelected judges- handpicked by politicians - make decisions for the whole state. I don't think we're going to improve things by using census data that's six years out of date.
PT: If not redistricting reform, what should elected officials do to address the issues that the reform is intended to solve?
Perata: Attacking the real issues means getting back to addressing the problems Californians want us working on. Nobody gets up in the morning and says, "my life would be so much better if the 9th Senate District went another four blocks that way."
PT: You mentioned Senator Lowenthal's proposed plan. What are the most effective measures in his plan that address the issues you believe people are interested in, e.g., education, transportation and health care?
Perata: The Lowenthal bill creates a citizen's commission that's much more representative of California to oversee the process. It would use new census data to draw the lines, and--unlike Prop. 77--it would not force voters to give up their right to challenge new districts before they went into effect.
PT: Prop. 77 aside, how much do issues of party leadership and the demands from Sacramento affect a legislator's job as representative of his or her constituency?
Perata: This may surprise you, but as someone who spends every day
in the Capitol—working one-on-one with Senators and members of the Assembly—I can tell you that members spend a lot more time worrying about their constituents than about the party leadership.
I think that has become even more true in the era of term limits, where members know that they only have a short time to accomplish their goals.
PT: At a fundamental level, what is responsible for legislative deadlock and the aspects of government that tend to frustrate voters?
Perata: Almost every major piece of legislation - every state budget, every tax bill, every bill that contains an appropriation - requires a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of our legislature. That's a very high bar to set. I think that's at the root of many of the things that frustrate voters.
PT: Senator, thank you for your time.
Don Perata is President pro Tem of the Senate and represents Oakland and the East Bay's 9th Senate District. Perata graduated from St. Mary's College of California.