The Pale, Male Face of Reform

Political reform has a storied -- and also troubling -- history in American politics. During the first half of the 20th century, "reform" organizations formed to take on party machines that dominated many large American cities, putting in place new political institutions like nonpartisan, at-large, and off-year elections.

In recent decades, however, scholars have noted that traditional urban reformers were motivated by more than simply a commitment to the broad interests of the community. Reformers drew their support disproportionately from white, middle-class voters who were opposed to the redistributive policies favored by machine politicians, whose constituency consisted heavily of recent immigrants and the urban poor. In cities where reformers succeeded, working-class and minority voters often found themselves disenfranchised at the polls and excluded from access to the resources of government.

The successes and failures of urban reform provide us with important lessons about ongoing proposals to make California government work better. For example, it looks increasingly likely that the state's new Citizens Redistricting Commission will be dominated by white men significantly wealthier than the average California voter. Latinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in the state, remain vastly underrepresented in the pool of potential redistricting commissioners.

The last time recent immigrants and people of meager means were excluded from reform efforts, resulting changes to the structure of government muted their voice for an entire generation. Hopefully, history is not repeating itself in California.


The fact is, while Latinos

The fact is, while Latinos are vastly underreprsented in the pool of potential redistricting commissioners, this is because they vastly underapplied. The average Latino was actually more likely than the average white person to make the cut. While certainly a greater turnout of Latino applicants for the Auditor Review Panel to choose from would have been preferable, the fact is that the Citizens Redistricting Commission is still a vast improvement of legislators of all races drawing their own districts to favor their reelection.

Commission Representation

Hopefully those choosing the final list of commission members will develop a demographically representative pool before the stage of random drawing of names. In any case, the seven who are selected can always choose to fill out the commission to get better ethnic representation if needed.

Re: Commission Representation

Given that the minority applicants are mostly Democrats (especially blacks and to some extent Latinos), the odds of a representative pool are likely to shrink, not grow. The final list of 60 will have only 20 democrats, so to some extent, minorities are really competing against one another for the same third of commission spots.

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