Policy Today magazine cover

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger answers questions about Proposition 77, redistricting and the path to better government.

Q: With redistricting once every 10 years, voters have historically been given a chance to get to know their representatives, and the representatives a chance to get to know their constituents. Why do you want to disrupt this relationship?

Schwarzenegger: The simple reason is because the system is fixed. Out of 153 congressional and legislative seats last November, none of them changed party. Think about that. The politicians drew the district lines last time, and now we have things like Congressional District 23, which runs up the coast for 200 miles. The politicians were picking their own voters rather than the voters picking the politicians. They drew the district lines to protect themselves, the incumbents.

And it's Republicans and Democrats alike.  It has nothing to do with Democrats against Republicans. Both parties sat down together and carved out districts so they could protect themselves. I don't want that, because it's not true democracy to have 153 congressional and legislative seats and not have one of them change party.

What we need is a panel that is independent, doesn't care about the outcome, and whatever that outcome is, the people get to vote on it. I think we should fix the system, because politicians are representing themselves. It's all about, "How can we keep our jobs, how can we keep our seat?" It's time to give the power back to the people.

Q: How can we expect judges to go about creating fair and balanced districts when this proposition specifically mandates that the judges cannot look at party composition?

Schwarzenegger: First of all, the districts should be designed based on what makes sense as a district, rather than worrying about where the Democrats and Republicans are. Let's look at what the politicians have done. They've moved the lines and split towns and communities in half; it wasn't the right thing to do. You have to draw the district lines regardless of what the outcome is. Draw the lines and then give it to the people to decide which way to go.

Who is fighting us on that? Not the general public—it's the politicians. Democrats and Republicans alike are pouring money into this campaign. Over the next 14 days, you will see $9 million—raised by politicians—spent to scare you into saying, "No, I shouldn't vote for Prop. 77."

But let me tell you something, because it's very important: We need political reform, and this is one of the most important ones. Common Cause—which is one of the most liberal organizations, as you know—came out and endorsed it, and said, "This is the right way to go, the fair way to give the power back to the people and take it away from the politicians."

Q: Some of your harshest critics agree that some sort of reform is needed. They quibble about using retired judges, but most of them don't really object to the fix; they object to the timing. They say that we should wait until the next census because the data reflects inaccurate population numbers.

Schwarzenegger: Isn't it interesting how they always want to push it back another five years, another 10 years? I've heard all of this. Senator Perata came to me and said, "I'd like to fix it, but can we also do something along with it to change term limits?" I said, "Oh, that's what you want! You want to extend the term limits." He said, "Well, maybe we can make it part of the package?" The bottom line is that they [the legislature] will never fix it; trust me. That's not what Sacramento does. Let's not forget that the best things in this state were created by the people. Think about the initiatives that have passed.

Q: Our current system of redistricting follows our census. As mandated by law, if our governor and legislature are unable to agree on redistricting plans, the process then goes to the State Supreme Court. Can you explain why this proposition is good for California, and not just gerrymandering like we saw in Texas under Tom Delay?

Schwarzenegger: That's exactly the kind of scare tactic that's coming from the politicians. They say that I'm trying to move the state to the right. That's the last ambition I have. I'm not
to the right, I'm not to the left; I try to be the people's representative.

As a matter of fact, in Ohio they're mad at me right now because I'm endorsing their redistricting initiative, and it's the Republican Party that has the advantage in Ohio. They're mad as hell. They're saying, "What are you doing interfering in our system?" but I say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Also in Ohio, the lines were drawn by politicians. So, this has nothing to do with Democrats vs. Republicans. We don't even know what the outcome will be. We need to take the power away from politicians who go into a back room, slap each other on the back, smoke a stogie and come up with district maps that look totally stupid.

Q: Why retired judges? They seem to be white, wealthy—hardly a rainbow coalition. Why not have retired journalists, cops or firefighters?

Schwarzenegger: I think we assume that they are smart. As you remember, judges did the redistricting in 1990-1991. Since then, we've had a tremendous increase of minorities and women becoming part of the legislature. So, we can draw the districts with the judges and make it work.

Remember, the judges will not have the final say; the people of California will. The judges will draw up the map and give it to the people in June before the election, and the people will get to approve it. The judges are there just as a mechanical thing; give the power back to the people.

Policy Today covered this, Governor Schwarzenegger's first unscripted town hall meeting with voters, at the Special Election Showdown on October 24, 2005. The event was facilitated by the Contra Costa Times and KTVU News Channel 2.