Sacramento, CA…MR. CRESSMAN: Good afternoon and thank you all for coming and welcome to the wonderful state of California, the place where electoral tidal waves smash into brick walls of gerrymandering. You know, it’s really stunning — not only today but looking back over the last several years, you know — where other parts of the country have experienced electoral upheavals and we have not. Here in California our legislature has an approval rating of either 10 percent or 13 percent, depending on which poll you look at and yet on Tuesday not a single incumbent in the California State legislature was unseated.
In 2006, in 2008 and again in 2010, the rest of the country saw big changes in their members of Congress; we saw no changes in 2006. We saw one seat change hands in 2008 — maybe that seat will flip back this year, maybe there’s one other.
What that tells me is that the gerrymandering got old, right? After 10 years enough people moved so that the elections they rigged 10 years ago didn’t quite work at the 100 percent level. The gerrymander was down to a 90 percent level.
And gerrymanders don’t only affect general elections, they affect primaries too. You look at the gerrymandering documentary film and they show you how it works in a primary, where literally if somebody challenges someone, next time they get drawn out of that district so they can’t be a primary challenge.
But next time it’ll be different. Redistricting reform means that elections in California in 2012 won’t be rigged and that means that we’re going to have better accountability in all of our elections, on the left and on the right and on the center. And, as someone who has been doing this type of political reform work, I’ve got to say, press conferences like this are too far and few between.
You know, that there’s this evolution of ideas where first they call you crazy and then next they kind of admit that you’re correct but dismiss you as, “Well, that will never happen.” Then they kind of acknowledge that, “Well, you’re right about the problem but your solution is flawed.” People might remember a lot of talk like that in the legislature around 2007, 2006. “Oh, yes, of course, incumbents shouldn’t draw their own districts. But your proposal is flawed; we’ve got another way,” that somehow didn’t get done.
And then you win and that’s what happened here in 2008. And then you get the counterpunch and this happens on every political reform issues — the Empire always strikes back — and we saw that again here in California.
And then you win again and you have a consolidation of a reform that gains permanence and that’s what happened on Tuesday when voters approved redistricting reform and extended it to Congress by overwhelming margins. I think the book is closed now in California and that’s the final word.
So that’s a big deal and the credit goes really to the voters of California who took the time to figure out this incredibly wonky issue, right? That they prioritized learning about this, even though they were faced with layoffs, with budget cuts, with the World Series — important things. (Laughter)
But some voters did more than others and before I introduce the folks who will be speaking here today I do just want to recognize some of those voters. One of them is Kathay Feng, the executive director of California Common Cause, who is based in Los Angeles so couldn’t come today. I’m technically Kathay’s boss but she’s taught me everything I know about this issue and I would definitely say if it were not for Cathy we wouldn’t be standing here today, so I think the voters of California owe her a big thanks.
Another big thanks is to Charles Munger, who is standing right here. I can’t tell you how many debates I was in on this issue over the time where they pointed out that he was actually funding this issue. And it occurred to me, you know, if every citizen in this country did what they could with the resources at their disposal, either financial or volunteer time or what have you, about one issue that they cared about, our problems would be solved, you know? So if everyone stepped up and did the Charlie Munger model of citizenship, California would be a much better place today.
I want to particularly thank Alice Huffman and the NAACP. Alice deserves some sort of Profile in Courage Award for literally facing up to personal beratement by members of Congress in a way that is rarely seen even in California politics.
And certainly Dave Pacheco and the AARP, a group that, you know, isn’t a democracy wonky reform group like Common Cause, (Laughter) but really understands the importance of issues like that to ordinary people and to their members. And they have been there through it, thick and through thin, for decades on this issue.
And finally, we would not also be here today were it not for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who really came to Sacramento in 2003 determined to change the way business was done here, who took this issue on in 2005 in a special election and lost — you know, got what President Bush would call a “thumping,” or Barack Obama a “shellacking,” I believe. And, you know, a girly man would have walked away after a defeat like that. (Laughter) But not this Governor. He came back in 2008 and won and came back in 2010 and kept the victory. And I am confident that this part of changing California’s politics will be a part of the legacy of this governor.
So let me thank and proudly introduce Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Applause)
Thank you very much, thank you. Well, thank you very much, Derek, for your great leadership and for your wonderful work and for the nice introduction. And Common Cause, of course and then Charlie Munger — congratulations for the great victory and for being out there battling it out and putting your money where your mouth is. (Laughter) And that was really great, to see that, so thank you very much for your great leadership. And then Alice Huffman, of course, my secret girlfriend. (Laughter) She has been terrific and that was a very daring move for you to get behind this, so thank you so much. And Helen Hutchison, I want to thank her, of course, from the League of Women Voters. And David Pacheco, the president of the California AARP and Jeannine English from the AARP. I mean, all of them and there are so many more that have been really responsible for this whole thing.
We’re here to talk about, obviously, our political reforms. And I think that David, you mentioned it, that I came in in 2003 and talked about it extensively, that I wanted to fix the things that are broken in California. And I had no idea that it would be as difficult, you know, that it would take that many years to do and that we’d have to go through all kinds of battles and minefields and defeats and all of this.
But I knew right away from the beginning that we have a political system that was rigged to benefit the interests of those that are in office rather than to the voters out there. And two reforms we knew were necessary, which was open primaries, which passed in June and also redistricting reform, which luckily passed in 2008 after many, many tries. As a matter of fact, how many times? Five times we tried and we lost. You know, people said, “Why don’t they give it up? Haven’t you gotten the message?”
I said, “No, I haven’t.” I said, “We’re going to be back.” And we were back and in 2008 we won and people finally approved Proposition 11.
It took the power to draw the state legislative lines away from the political parties and that was the important thing and to give it back to the people. So we have taken it away, that power from the politicians, which of course both parties hated because for years they have been conspiring in back-room deals to carve out their districts. You know, give some of them to the Democrats, some of them to the Republicans and this is how they divided it up.
And, of course, to win those districts you had to be far to the left or far to the right and of course that is why it is very tough here in Sacramento to get things done and that’s why also it’s very tough to get things done in Washington. Now, that’s why our political system has become paralyzed by ideology.
And on Tuesday the people had two very clear choices; they could roll back our redistricting reform and undo it, what was done, or they could expand it to Congress and to take the reform movement that we started in Sacramento and take it all the way to Capitol Hill, all the way to Washington.
The people went to the polls and they send a resounding message. I mean, it was really amazing, by how many points, by what percentage we won on those initiatives. People basically, their message was that we are fed up about gridlock, we are fed up of the partisan bickering that’s going on and we are fed up with our leaders lacking the courage to stand up to the special interests. So they wanted the wanted the reform.
This last Tuesday we won with Proposition 20 and we defeated Proposition 27. The sad story, really, is that we are not going to see the effects of that immediately. Reforms take a long time to take effect and to really that you feel it and so our administration is not going to benefit from that.
But as I have just said to our Governor-elect Jerry Brown on the way up here from San Diego on the plane, that he is going to really feel it and he will see right away more politicians coming in here, more legislators coming in here that will be more to the center.
It will be felt for decades to come, that’s the good thing here — not just the next administration but for decades to come — when bickering gives away to compromise, when accountability in government is not a catch phrase but a reality and when our elected leaders stop bowing before the special interests and instead bow to the public, to the voters. So I’m very excited about this. Two days ago the voters kicked out the old habits of California and I think that will rattle the cage here.
And the good thing also is, we saw this kind of a revolt all over the country. We saw it also in Washington, that the voters kicked out the Democrats in Washington — just four years ago they kicked out the Republicans in Washington. So this is how it goes back until they really find the right thing.
The people are starving for change and they’re willing to cross the party line in order to get it. They are searching desperately not for a Republican government, not for a Democratic government but just simply for government that works. It is about time that they get it.
And I’m proud that once again California is leading the way. We are leading the way and creating the necessary reforms in order to make government work, so I’m very excited about that.
And now I want to bring our next speaker out here, which is Charles Munger, the man that really has been by my side on all of those reforms and has put a lot of money into those reforms and he wanted to expand this redistricting reform to the Congressional Districts also. So congratulations and please welcome Charles Munger. (Applause)
Every once in a while you can see a reform whose time has come but it just isn’t happening. On the wall to my left you can see pictures of mountains. Occasionally you can find an avalanche of rocks that’s just hanging there. It’s time for it to come down and it’s going to hang there for another 10 years unless somebody goes to the top and tries to give it a kick. It was my honor to give, with Proposition 20, the kick and I’m glad to have behind me the avalanche and all the millions of voters that voted for reform.
What does Proposition 20 mean to the future of California? It affects the Congressional Districts. What does it mean? Well, one thing it means is this: For a full decade the people of California have been unable effectively to vote whether they approved or disapproved of whichever party had control of Congress. In all the political movements in the last decade the rest of the nation was participating; California was not. We had one Congressional seat in play. Look back in the 1990s, Fair Districts, there were eight or 10 in play in every election cycle.
And with the new commission, not because they have any instruction to create districts that are balanced between the parties but because incumbents won’t be drawing the districts and therefore people will not be trying to protect all the incumbents. And so a few Fair Districts are fine — we’ll have that eight or 10 again. So California, welcome back on the next big revolution in the leadership in Congress you’ll be a full and equal player and that hasn’t been true for a decade.
The next big thing it means is a lot is made in redistricting reform about the contests between the parties — how many Republicans, how many Democrats. That has always been the smallest part of the corruption of redistricting reform.
The big part is this: In the state of California there are whole regions where, no matter how you draw the districts, they basically belong to one party or another. It’s a pretty safe region for your party. What redistricting reform does is it says, just because you’re an incumbent politician in that district, you can’t hand carve your district, splitting up cities, counties and most importantly our communities, to predetermine that you will be the congressman for the next 10 years because you can throw would-be challengers out of your district. You can split up their bases of support, you can isolate them, you can grab all the donors into your part of the world and kick the remnants somewhere else.
You can’t look at a rising ethnic group, a neighborhood that is changing and you can say, “Well, I may not want to serve that ethnic community but I sure as heck don’t want them finding someone of their community who might want to contest for the U.S. Congress who will.” And I can carve my district so no such person can arise. That is over in California.
And California sends 53 people to Congress; we’re the single largest delegation. And Congress — that’s war, that’s peace. If you make the U.S. Congress, through its California delegation, more accountable to the voters of California and more accountable to the nation, you have just changed the world. I don’t know how, over time, the people of California will use their new authority over their Congress to change the world but I know that they will.
And it’s for that reason, because this is a national problem and our government is ailing, that I came in in California and tried to do this and it’s been an honor to be part of this. Proposition 20 is not a quick fix to anything. It affects the districts in 2012. We have two years of members of Congress and with the defeat of Proposition of Proposition 27 members of the legislature, who were elected in the old districts.
And if you find your state government has been unaccountable and if you believe, as I do, that a lot of the reason it’s been unaccountable is because of the people have been elected in those districts, there is reason to suppose that it may be a long two years. But it will end, we will get new members coming in. The government of California and its Congressional Delegation is going to be more accountable to the people. And with the victory that we had, with the margin of victory we had, I don’t think the incumbent politicians are ever going to try to take this back.
And it’s been an honor to win this revolution, it’s been an honor to be part of something that’s taken decades finally to achieve and I thank the voters of California tremendously for their efforts and for making things fair for everybody. Thank you. (Applause)
You can tell the non-politicans — they forget their cues. I would like to introduce a stalwart champion of this effort, Alice Huffman of the NAACP, who has a few words. (Applause)
Well, I would like to congratulate this team — we were a fine team. And I want to thank the Governor for leaning on me and having me go and take a look at this proposition to see if there was anything good in it for my community. And I took a critical look, Governor and after I did I realized there were a couple of things that happened for the people in the communities of which we serve.
But I do want to thank — I have a few NAACP people here. It isn’t all Alice, because I have to get the vote of my members to stand behind me, because this was very controversial. So I want to thank my members from the NAACP who gave us an opportunity to participate in such a revolution. We worked on Prop 11 and I want to thank Sam Walton, who has monitored Prop 11 for the California NAACP since its inception.
And we know that our participation is going to make a difference for our community and I will tell you why. I have been working in democratic politics for 40 years in this state and I know the way the game goes. No one gets resources to educate their community, to build voter registration in their community, to have more participation in their community, unless they’re in one of those targeted districts. So what our members do is that they raise money and then they put the money into the targeted districts and they forget about building the capacity of our community.
So one of the fallouts from this will be people will have to pay attention to their own districts. They’ll have to campaign in their own districts and maybe we’ll get better schools, maybe we’ll get a whole lot of things that need improvement in our community.
But more than that is the transparency. No one really trusts elected officials anymore; they might like their own but they don’t trust the body of elected officials. And I believe the transparency of the redistricting process is just a start but it is a start. It will be open and we will prevail upon ordinary citizens to pay attention, to get involved and to make sure that they know that their communities of interest are protected in this process.
So I want to thank all my colleagues, that we worked so hard together and all of those that took abuse from their elected officials and who were threatened. And we survived and we won and I’m very, very happy.
So at this point I’d like to introduce David Pacheco, who is — he has the same title as I do, just four letters different on the end — he’s the State Conference President of the AARP. (Applause)
Thank you. Thank you, Alice. On behalf of AARP’s more than 3 million members here in California I’d like to thank Governor Schwarzenegger for his continuing efforts to reform redistricting in California. I’d also like to compliment the voters of the state of California for their wisdom in passing Proposition 20 and resoundingly rejecting Prop 27. Prop 20 will put an end to the politicians’ control of redistricting by eliminating a process that creates safe seats for members of Congress, who therefore have little incentive to address voters’ concerns because they cannot be held accountable by voters.
Prop 27 was put on the ballot by politicians who don’t want to be accountable to voters, who want to thwart Congressional redistricting. Their efforts, if successful, would have overturned the will of the people who approved Prop 11 in 2008 and would have returned California to the days when politicians had the power to draw their own safe seats. The opponents of Prop 20 and supporters of Prop 27 clearly wanted to return to the days of back-room deals where they rigged the system in their favor to protect themselves and other incumbents. But Californians said no.
So thanks again to Governor Schwarzenegger, the many members of this coalition, our immediate past president, Jeannine English, who worked on this reform issue since its beginning and to the people of California. On Tuesday you helped point California in the direction of a brighter future.
I’ll now introduce Helen Hutchison, who is the vice president of the League of Women Voters.
Thank you very much. On Tuesday California voters decisively rejected Proposition 27 and the attempt to destroy the far-reaching redistricting reform passed by voters in 2008. The League of Women Voters hails these election results. Californians understood that Proposition 27 was a politicians’ scheme to seize power from the voters and avoid accountability. They saw it for what it was and stopped it dead in its tracks.
The League remains committed to working with our partners to achieve the best possible implementation of the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission that Californians have so clearly stated they want. League members will continue to monitor the process, educate the public and engage in grass-roots efforts to empower communities and neighborhoods across the state to fully participate in all phases of the mapping process.
With this election behind us it’s time for the commission and all Californians to get to work and make redistricting reform a reality for California. This is a great victory for Californians. Thank you all for coming.