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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Q & A With Bill Mundell on Prop. 77: The Voter Empowerment Act (a.k.a. Redistricting) - Part I

[Cross-posted at the Bear Flag League Special Election Page.]

As promised, here is the first exchange with Bill Mundell, Chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting.

Democracy Market: Tell us about your background and your involvement with Prop 77.

Mr. Mundell: For the last 6 years, I have been an education technology entrepreneur and prior to that I rebuilt one of the largest financial information services in the world, the WEFA Group. There are so many obvious problems in California that are not being address due to entrenched politicians who can get away with inaction and incompetence because of 2001’s bipartisan gerrymander. I saw The Voter Empowerment Act as a key component in solving Sacramento’s perpetual stagnation that has resulted in a failing education system and exorbitant budget deficits. I started Californians for Fair Redistricting in February as a means to show that this was important to all Californians, not just the Governor. Through our efforts, we brought the Voter Empowerment Act across the finish line with just at a million signatures and helped to guarantee it would be on the special election ballot.

DM: What motivated you to get involved in the redistricting issue?

Mr. Mundell: I was concerned about disenfranchisement of California voters. The 2001 gerrymander stifled the gains in governmental representation made by the Latino and Asian communities throughout the 1990s. It succeeded in negating natural population trends at the expense of communities for the sole purpose of protecting incumbents. Last year, for the first time in modern California history, out of 153 seats for reelection, not one changed party hands -- 100% reelection rate with a 25% approval. There is something wrong with that math.

The current system by which we elected our representatives is corrupt, undemocratic, and contemptuous of the voting public. The Voter Empowerment Act was not only the most fair, but also, the most viable solution to this enormous problem. This is why I started Californians for Fair Redistricting – to bring representative democracy back to California!

DM: Is Californians For Fair Redistricting connected to the Governor? If so, how?

Mr. Mundell: We felt an independent advocacy group was necessary to ensure the people’s message regarding immediate redistricting reform did not get lost amidst the Governor’s other reforms this November. This is why we chose to remain independent of the Governor, despite our esteem for his active support of Prop 77.

Prop 77 is an echo of the voice of the people; this initiative is not about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nearly a million Californians signed The Voter Empowerment Act in support immediate redistricting reform, making Prop 77 the most popular of the Governor’s reform initiatives. Prop 77 is the second act of the recall, a vehicle to finish a job begun two years ago to reclaim the sovereignty of the people.

DM: Why is it important that Prop 77 pass this November? Why not wait until later, as some politicians have suggested?

Mr. Mundell: Since the 2001 redistricting, California has seen some of the lowest voter participation rates in postwar history. People have lost faith in their system – and the sad truth is that this loss of faith is justified. Elections are rigged. Outcomes are predetermined. And the proof is in the pudding: 153 seats up for reelection and 0 changed party hands; again I point out that when the State legislature has a100% reelection rate despite 25% approval, there is no incentive for elected officials to be responsive to the electorate.

We need immediate redistricting reform to rejuvenate our democracy in California and restore the people’s faith in the government. Waiting only ensures more of the same from Sacramento: more inaction, more contempt, more corruption, and more failure. This November, California will find itself at a precipice because of the current path our legislative leaders have taken us. If we follow their incumbent protection machine beyond November 8th, California may very well be run into the ground. It does not behoove us to wait to fix a system everyone agrees is broken. Prop 77 is the key to fixing it.

Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, technology turned voter profiling into a virtual science. The gerrymandering in the 2001 redistricting was accomplished with an unprecedented level of precision, the effect of which was positively Orwellian. In the 2004 election, despite a 25% approval rate, the Legislature had a 100% reelection rate.

The failure of representative democracy in this state has led citizens to overly utilize the initiative process to express their will. This "initiative inflation" is evidenced by the 84 citizen initiatives filed with the secretary of state this year, compared with the yearly average of 30 to 40 over the last decade. Most of these initiatives were for unfunded, uncoordinated mandates. Is it any wonder that we have a budget crisis?

Since the redistricting of 2001, we have seen some of the lowest voter participation rates in the postwar period. It is a legitimate question to ask where this all leads. How long can this country continue to preach the virtue of democracy abroad — as we are doing in Iraq — when we do not practice it at home?

DM: Do you think the legal challenges Prop 77 faced will negatively impact the measure at the polls? If so, what measures is Californians for Fair Redistricting taking to mitigate that impact?

Mr. Mundell: The legal action against Prop 77 further proves the need for redistricting reform. Essentially, you had elected officials thwarting the will of almost a million Californians – who they are meant to serve – in order to protect their seats in the Legislature.

There was no legal precedent that would justify pulling Prop 77 off the November ballot, so Bill Lockyer -- with support from Fabian Nunez and Don [Perata] – tried to create one by attacking non-substantive differences between the filed version and the circulated version of the VEA. The Supreme Court of California overturned the lower court decisions that tried to take 77 off the ballot. The [California Supreme Court] determined that it should go through the electoral process and let the people speak. It is quite possible that some of the incumbent protection groups will fight the will of the people should 77 pass, but given the great amount of money they are putting into opposing the measure at the ballot, one has to wonder where the funds will come from to take their efforts back to court.

During June and July, before the legal action against Prop 77, just over a thousand independents were contacted by representatives of the Committee for an Independent Voice. At that time 47% responded “yes” to supporting Prop 77 and 18% were opposed.

After the lawsuit, when asked if [independents] would be in support redistricting reform 63% responded “yes”, 31% responded “not sure”, and only 6% responded “no.”

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Q & A with Bill Mundell On Prop 77: The Voter Empowerment Act (a.k.a. Redistricting)

[Cross-posted at the Bear Flag League Special Election Page.]

Starting tomorrow, Democracy Market will be featuring a multi-part Q & A Series with Bill Mundell, one of the architects behind Prop 77, The Voter Empowerment Act. Bill is Chairman of Californians For Fair Redistricting, the bipartisan group instrumental in getting Prop 77 qualified for the Special Election ballot.

Check back tomorrow for the first part in an ongoing series...