MONTEREY, Calif. -- It's a red-hot election year, with control of Congress at stake, and this political reporter has come to the state with a whopping 53 of the 435 U.S. House seats. That's one-eighth of the congressional total and 21 more seats than the next biggest state, Texas. So why do the seagulls over Monterey Bay seem to be screaming in reproach?
Because it's less than eight weeks until Election Day Nov. 7, and not a single one of those 53 congressional contests is competitive enough to merit a busy correspondent's attention.
In a year of anti-Republican and anti-incumbent fever, that fact stands as a testament to the completeness of California's bipartisan gerrymandering. The mapping of political lines for partisan advantage after each decennial census may have originated back east with Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry 194 years ago, but it has been perfected here on the West Coast.
Also on that long-shot list is the suburban Sacramento district represented for 16 years by Rep. John Doolittle; he and his wife have been implicated in the scandal involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This week the Sacramento Bee newspaper endorsed Democratic challenger Charlie Brown, a former Air Force pilot in Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf war, saying, "Doolittle is emblematic of what's wrong in Washington." It takes a big scandal to turn a safe seat like Mr. Doolittle's into one the opposition party can seize, but often even that isn't enough -- as Republicans' retention of the former Cunningham seat shows.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on voters to approve an initiative that would leave the redistricting of state and federal districts to a nonpartisan commission of retired judges. Mr. Panetta, who supported the proposal, says the Governator told him that rarely do the state legislative leaders of both parties come to his office at the same time, but on this one "they walked in together and said, 'You cannot put this initiative forward.'" Mr. Schwarzenegger told Mr. Panetta, "When that happened, I knew it was the right thing to do."
But the ballot initiative, like redistricting itself, was "the one area where bipartisanship prevailed -- both Republicans and Democrats opposed it," Mr. Panetta recalls. A bipartisan bankroll financed the media campaign against the initiative, and it was easily defeated. Which helps explain why a national reporter visiting here now is watching seagulls instead of candidates.
The Democratic seats are safe, too, but what it all means is that any real change has been engineered out by both sides. It does show, however, that bi-partisan cooperation is possible, if only to protect each other's jobs. It really sucks.
If politicians would put that much effort into actually working for their employers, and by that I mean the ones who voted for them instead of the ones who give them money and tell them what to do, the nation would be in a lot better shape. Fat chance.