By Hillel Aron
Jackass 3D won the box office last weekend, an obscene $50 million, the highest-grossing movie featuring a Porta Potty launched into the air with the driver still inside.
A less low-brow film by Jeff Reichart opened at the Nuart in Los Angeles and simultaneously in New York: Gerrymandering. The trailer, below, shows Arnold Schwarzenegger darkly describing a Mafia-like scheme, Howard Dean condemning it too, and another referring to “the perfect crime.”
Reichart says gerrymandering has put the democracy in a FUBAR situation:
“It's like putting a kid in the room with a cookie jar,” Reichart says.
Gerrymandering is a hot issue, the subject of California Proposition 20 and Proposition 27 on the November ballot.
Basically, gerrymandering lets politicians radically reshape voting districts in order to fix elections.
Reichart doesn't think the politicians who fix elections and screw voters are evil — just unable to stop themselves.
In California, 120 state legislative districts can't be manipulated like that anymore. That is all thanks to a voter reform approved in 2008 called Proposition 11.
But Prop. 27 on the November ballot, written by and for incumbent politicians, would undo that voter-approved reform from 2008.
Proposition 20 does essentially the opposite of Prop. 27, and it's also on the ballot.
Prop. 20 would yank the power away from the California state legislature to draw Congressional voting district lines in wild shapes (California has some nutty shapes but not the hilarious Rabbit on Skateboard, shown here, which is back East).
Gerrymandering by the legislature of Congressional districts is damn effective. It's nearly impossible to oust an incumbent. And nationwide, only 19 got dumped in the most recent elections — and there are 435 Congressional seats
But fixing gerrymandering is tricky.
You can't just cut a state like California into equal squares. Populations aren't distributed evenly, and in many cases, you have to divide communities up.
Drawing new district lines will always be political — but it doesn't have to be controlled by the politicians who have the most to gain or lose personally.
Doesn't any state get it right? After all, the United States is the only westernized democracy that allows its sitting politicians to draw up the voting districts.
There is one U.S. state that does it right: Iowa.
In Iowa, redistricting is done by two guys named Ed and Gary, non-partisan bureaucrats.
But Ed and Gary have an easy job compared to the citizen panel that, under Prop. 20, would do it in California. Iowa doesn't have mountain ranges and has a fairly even population distribution – no huge cities to divide up. Iowa is also 95% white.
The issue of whether race should be a factor in carving and shaping voting districts is a thorny one.
Should blacks and Latinos be lumped into bizarrely shaped, wildly improbable “voting districts” (like the Pair of Headphones, here) to ensure that a black or brown politician gets elected, when today's voters elect people not of their race?
Conservatives tend to think not, civil rights groups think so.
Among those against Proposition 20 is former chairman of the NAACP Julian Bond.
After decades of trying to win representation, Reichert says, many such minority groups want to keep the old rules in place.
They'd rather the devil they know.