"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and hosted by Signal Multimedia Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Bill Mundell, chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting, the organization that is promoting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Voter Empowerment Act" on the November special election ballot in California. Questions are paraphrased and some answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: As chairman of Californians for Fair Redistricting, you're the chief spokesman for Gov. Schwarzenegger's redistricting measure that's going to be on the special election ballot in November.
Mundell: It has qualified. We had just under 1 million signatures, and last week we found out that we will in fact be on the ballot. We've qualified. It required only 498,000 signatures to qualify, so we exceeded that substantially.
Signal: Do you find that people understand what redistricting is all about?
Mundell: When people understand what happened in the 2001 redistricting, when people understand the extent to which they've been disenfranchised of their vote, people get serious and motivated about this issue very quickly.
Signal: Define the problem.
Mundell: The problem is that in 2001, the leaders of both of the major political parties got together in what was essentially a back-room deal to redraw the political map of California in such a way as to virtually guarantee their reelection.
Fast-forward to 2004, and out of 153 seats that were up for reelection that year, not a single seat changed party hands. And that has never happened before in modern California history.
Signal: We're talking about state Assembly, state Senate and Congress.
Signal: Well, isn't current system of gerrymandering good for both the Democrats and Republicans, if everybody's seat is safe?
Mundell: It is the ultimate conflict of interest, and that is why our initiative, the Voter Empowerment Act, would take the responsibility which now rests with the Legislature and put it outside of their hands in the hands of an independent, objective panel.
Signal: So your initiative does exactly what?
Mundell: As early as the June 2006 primary, it would call for a redrawing, a mid-decade redrawing, of the political map of California by a group of independent judges who would be selected in a bipartisan way by the Legislature, and do so in time for the June 2006 primary.
Signal: How many judges?
Mundell: The ultimate number of judges is three, but it's based on a selection of 1,200 judges that is then by lot, by the clerk of the Assembly, (which) reduces that to 24.
And then the four leaders of the Legislature two Democrats and two Republicans each pick three judges from that pool. But the caveat is that they can't choose judges from their own party. So a Republican would have to choose a Democrat or independent, and vice versa. That narrows it down to 12, and then the 12 are further narrowed down with a silver-bullet veto that each of the four have against one of the other's choices.
So it's designed to really scrutinize the judges and make sure they really are independent and up to carrying out the job.
Signal: So ultimately you'd take away the boundary-setting responsibility from a Legislature of 120 representatives and put it in the hands of three rather powerful people.
Mundell: Well, they are and they aren't powerful, because ultimately, the submissions those three judges don't redraw the map. The submissions come from anyone in the electorate in California, so they adjudicate according to very strict constitutional requirements the submissions coming from the public.
Signal: Now that the governor has called this special election, your initiative will appear on the November ballot.
Signal: After November, what happens in terms of drawing the new districts?
Mundell: After November, the Legislature would meet in what will be a special session; they will make the selection of the judges. The judges will then solicit recommendations in what will be the most transparent process of the redrawing of the political map of California in its history. There will be three hearings.
The goal is to finish that redistricting process by mid-February, in time for the candidate declaration period, so that we can have new districts in place for the June primary.
Signal: You've been critical of Bruce McPherson, California's new Republican secretary of state, for saying the redistricting can't happen that fast not in 2006 and maybe not in 2008. What say you?
Mundell: We've been in constant communication since he made that statement, and I think if you were to ask him that right now, I think he'd have a different answer.
There is a consensus in Sacramento that this can't be done. That consensus is based on a frozen mentality, a mentality that goes back to 1992 when then-Gov. Wilson reached an impasse with the Legislature and was required to go to a group of "special masters" to redraw the political map of California.
Well, (the special masters) did it in less than two months but that was before the massive advances in technology that have occurred in the last 10 to 15 years. Now, with mapping software, this can be done in a fraction of that two-month time.
So the reality is, I think there's a lot of resistance to this from the entrenched establishment and from the politicians who like their safe seats. But the reality is, there is no technical obstacle to actually getting this done by June 2006.
Signal: You said that these judges can take submissions from anybody, so we can assume that both the California Republican Party and the California Democratic Party will draw maps and submit them. Have you already drawn a map that you'd like to see?
Mundell: No, I haven't. And I thought it's very important that I stay very, very objective in this process, so this really a non-partisan (issue).
I'm a Republican. I've been a lifelong Republican. Pat Caddell is on my committee, a life-long Democrat. I've decided that we shouldn't try to prescribe any particular outcome or be involved in that process; we should leave it up to the people of California.
There's one additional point that after the maps are drawn, ultimately the public votes on this. So in June å06, after these maps are redrawn, the public then has a vote a yes or no vote on whether they agree with the political map as it's been drawn. So there (are) many checks and balances to ensure that this is fair.
Signal: So after these three redistricting czars sign off on a submitted map, it goes to the voters.
Mundell: That's right. And I think the other point that's very important is that and this part of the reason it's judges and not just normal citizens up there doing it this has to adhere very strongly to strict constitutional mandates. The state Constitution, Article 21, says that in the redrawing of political districts, the geographic integrity of any city, county, or city-and-county must respect the integrity of communities, to the largest extent possible. So you would never have a district, for example, like the 23rd Congressional District
Signal: That doesn't happen today
Mundell: It certainly doesn't. (The 23rd Congressional) District is nicknamed the "ribbon of shame" for a reason. It starts in Monterey and goes all the way to Oxnard. In some places it's not even the width of a high school football field. It was designed it used to be just a nice, round circle around Santa Monica; it was a nice community representation district and it was drawn specifically to protect incumbency.
If you look across the state, what you will see is a twisted map of crazy districts that have nothing to do with community and everything to do with incumbency protection.
Signal: This isn't a new problem. A reapportionment initiative circulated in 1983 that would have preserved the integrity of communities in the design of Assembly, Senate and congressional districts. It qualified, but the Rose Bird Supreme Court struck it down, removing it from the ballot. What makes you think you can come along 23 years later and survive a legal challenge?
Mundell: I think there are a couple of things. First, I think the proponents of redistricting have learned an awful lot from that (1983) experience. That was in fact shot down on a procedural issue, a constitutional procedural issue.
The drafting of this initiative has taken account of all of those simple errors to make sure that this won't get shut down for anything procedural or anything that could possibly deemed to violate the constitution. So we are on much firmer ground than we've ever been on.
I think if you look at the polls right now, if you look the Rose Institute, they just did a poll about a month ago and it says that two-thirds of Californians both Democrats and Republicans have, by an overwhelming majority, said that they want redistricting reform, and they want it now.
And the crux of it, I think what really propelled the electorate forward in this, is that the redistricting that was done in 2001 was so egregious. I don't think there's ever been an example in California of such an egregious redistricting, and I think people are fed up. And I'm fed up, and that's one of the reasons I got involved in this.
Signal: With the 1983 initiative, wasn't it the case that it violated the Legislature's constitutional role in the process? In your initiative, since the Legislature appoints the judges who approve the maps, do you feel you've overcome this hurdle?
Mundell: It was struck down because it did not strictly conform with the mandates that an initiative must say that there is an amendment to the constitution. It was a very procedural issue that actually struck it down. It wasn't actually a substance point...
(Editor's note: The 1983 Sebastiani Reapportionment initiative would have changed legislative boundaries that were set by the Legislature and approved by Gov. Jerry Brown two years earlier. In a 6-1 vote, the California Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Rose Bird, ruled that the state Constitution precluded reapportionment more often than every 10 years, after each national census. Justice Frank K. Richardson, the court's only Republican, dissented. It was the first pre-election removal of a qualified ballot initiative since 1948.)
Signal: As of this week, you've personally put a reported $318,000 into this initiative drive. Who is Bill Mundell, and why would you do that?
Mundell: Well, because I feel that this is the biggest structural problem facing California right now. I think without redistricting reform, I don't think that you get the type of reform that we need in California.
And I wanted to be supportive to this governor because, as I looked at this initiative, and looking as a private citizen at this, it was very clear to me that of all the initiatives, this was the most important initiative, and it was also the initiative that had the greatest chance of slipping through the cracks and not qualifying.
So I decided to get involved, after consultation with some members of the governor's super-committee, in order to effect this change and ensure that we put it over the finish line.
In retrospect, this was one of best decisions I made, because without the efforts of Californians for Fair Redistricting, this initiative would not have qualified.
Signal: What do you do for a living?
Mundell: I'm an entrepreneur. I run an educational software company, and I've been fortunate enough that I can both spend some of my time and some of the money that I've been fortunate enough to make to give back on this. And I'm very passionate about this issue. I'm very focused on this issue. It's something that I've thought about for a long time.
For at least a decade, I've been infuriated by the redistricting problems that this country faces. And I'll say this: It's very ironic that precisely the time that we're seeing democracy flourish in parts of the world where we never thought it was possible where you literally are seeing people standing in line, risking their lives to vote that here at home, here in California, we're witnessing democracy erode to the point where it's difficult to get people to even show up and vote.
And you know what? I don't blame those citizens who have a problem going out to vote. They know the system is rigged. They know it's fixed. It's contemptuous of the voting public. It is the highest priority.
Signal: There's even a new catch phrase: "You don't pick your representatives; your representatives pick you."
Mundell: I think it's time to return to the most fundamental principle of American democracy, which is exactly that.
Signal: On a personal level, though your initiative effectively threatens to "draw" all the sitting Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento and Congress right out of a job. Have you personally had some beef with the leadership in Sacramento that would compel you to put $318,000 into this effort?
Mundell: I think that my beef is the beef of the California people. We've witnessed two years of gridlock in Sacramento. We went through the extraordinary step to recall a governor. Since that point, in the last two years, there's been very little accomplished there. And I don't see much getting accomplished until we have fair and free elections in the state of California.
Signal: What's the rush? U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein says California is "strapped for cash" and she thinks it's "a mistake to spend tens of millions of dollars on a special election just eight months before a scheduled election." Senate Leader Don Perata, another Democrat, says the governor just wants to "star in another war movie" by going to the mat in November. Why not wait until the June 2006 primary?
Mundell: I think the statement from Sen. Feinstein is obscene. I think she ought to be ashamed of herself.
Forty-five, $50 million, $60 million we're facing a budget deficit of $9 billion. Isn't it worth $60 million to restore representative democracy to the state of California? I don't understand people who speak that way.
Signal: Ted Costa, the architect of the Gray Davis recall effort, is one of the official sponsors of your initiative. Is this not just another way to get more Republicans elected?
Mundell: No, I don't think so. I think this initiative, if you look at the polls, draws great bipartisan support.
Just last week, (Attorney General) Bill Lockyer came out and spoke in favor of this initiative. He said it was the most important initiative on the ballot for the November election. There are Democrats out there. This is an initiative that fair-minded Democrats as well as Republicans can support.
Now, it is true that the state, the congressional delegation, the state Assembly and the state Senate (are) overwhelmingly Democrat, so you could make the argument that they have more to lose. But this is an initiative that is not supported by at least 50 percent of the sitting Republicans (in the Legislature). This is an issue of incumbents versus the people of California. This is an issue of taking our state back and making the voices heard.
There's a reason right now that there were over 80 citizen initiatives filed with the secretary of state in the last year. A staggering number, 80 initiatives. They are not getting their voices heard. Democracy is not working. So the citizens of California, including myself, are working overtime because the system is broken. We've got to fix the system and move forward from there.
Signal: One official sponsor of the 1983 reapportionment initiative was the California Republican Party. But another sponsor was California Common Cause. Where is Common Cause today, with you?
Mundell: Most of the organizations and Common Cause is one of them support redistricting, but they want to wait until 2010. And again, I don't think we have enough time left.
You know, I'll tell you this I would say this to the people who say it's technically not feasible to get it done in June OK, so you need a couple of months? Delay the primary. Why should we have another unfair election?
If the Carter Center, formed by President Jimmy Carter, was going out to observe an election of foreign ground right now, and they determined that the election was not fair, they would recommend and use all the weight that they have to say, "Delay the election." I'd say (that) to those people who don't understand the technology and how imminently doable it is in the time frame prescribed by the Voter Empowerment Act.
If you don't believe that (and) you need another month, take another month. Let's have a July primary. An August primary. I think most people would agree that there's too much time between the primary and the general election anyway.
Signal: Didn't term limits solve the problem?
Mundell: Clearly they did not. Term limits, I think, are a Band-Aid of a solution. And I would pose the question a different way. If this passes, if we have genuine, representative democracy in California, term limits are less important.
Signal: Back in 1983 there were no term limits. Willie Brown was effectively Assembly speaker for life. Today, Assembly members are limited to six years and senators are limited to eight years. Jimmy Carter would take a look and see that everybody gets to vote, every vote is counted, and the person with the most votes wins. How is that undemocratic?
Mundell: It's undemocratic because of the profiling that took place of the voters.
All of the Legislature, all of the congressional delegation, paid consultants $30,000 to draw bulletproof districts. It is the ultimate conflict of interest to allow them to draw their districts in such a way.
This is partly an issue of the changes in technology and the availability of data. You can do such precise voter profiling right now. That precision allows you to create districts that make it virtually impossible for you to lose.
In term limits, the flip side, the problem with it is and I'm generally a proponent of it, because I think it's better than nothing but the problem with it is that these legislators come in they don't have a lot of knowledge when they come in as freshmen legislators they become that much more dependent upon the lobbyists. And the way this state has been sold out, over the last five years, by the Legislature in Sacramento, it is a real travesty. It's something that has not seen the light of day yet.
I predict, if we are successful in November at passing the Voting Empowerment Act, you're going to see a lot of heads roll in Sacramento. And I don't mean just the voters voting them out. I think there's a lot of investigation that needs to be done in Sacramento.
Signal: How do you overcome the power of the lobbyists and bureaucrats?
Mundell: Well, I think you start with this, and I think this is a big, monumental step. And I will tell you that the whole nation is looking at California.
I was back at the op-ed (department) of the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago. The whole nation is watching us because this isn't just a California problem. This is a problem that exists in other states. California is, however, the most egregious example of it.
Signal: You mentioned profiling voters. Today, redistricting is tied to the U.S. Census to make sure all populations are adequately represented. If you're calling for a mid-term reapportionment without benefit of new census data, how will you guarantee that underrepresented minorities are dealt a fair shake?
Mundell: I would ask you the question: Do you think underrepresented minorities the Latino and Asian communities of California do you think they got fair shake in 2001?
Take a look at (U.S. Rep.) Howard Berman's district. Take a look at (Rep. Brad) Sherman's district. Take a look at how shamelessly Latino voters were removed in order to reassure the reelection of those two incumbents. They have not been properly represented.
As for the data being out of date, it's a specious argument because the data is out of date. If it's good enough for grossly unfair elections, it ought to be good enough for fair elections.
Signal: Incumbent Democrats say your initiative would benefit Republicans. But California overall has more Democratic voters than Republicans. Even here in the Santa Clarita Valley, where Republicans have been in the majority for the last 40 years or so, Democrats are gaining. Today the Legislature draws the districts in such a way that they virtually guarantee the election of Democrats in certain areas and Republicans in other areas. But if your districts are based on concentric circles that maintain the integrity of communities, and if most ungerrymandered communities across California tend to vote Democratic, aren't you worried that you'll wipe out all the Republican seats and everything will go Democratic?
Mundell: I don't believe that at all to be the case. I think the big story in voter registration in California over the last five years is the dramatic rise of independent voters.
This is not a liberal state or conservative state. This is a reform state. Californians are reformers. I think the candidates who are most likely to win, going forward, in free and fair elections, are people who are reformers.
So I don't buy the argument at all that this is going to be negative, or negative to Democrats. I think there's a fair fight to be had here. I think we owe it to ourselves to have a fair fight. And I simply don't accept the argument that Republicans should be defensive and worry about preserving their minority status in this state.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.