Exploring the riddle of California’s 450-mile-long congressional district
John Moore | USA TODAY
When I started this journey, a friend recommended the book “The Congressional Districts of California” (by Gary R. Johnson, which, I believe, is on its second printing). His advice: “No matter what party you’re in, you will probably find someone at some point using the district you live in as an example of what’s wrong with government”
And as with almost all books that I buy, I wasn’t exactly aware beforehand of the depth and breadth of the problems of the U.S. Congressional Districts. But the more I read, the more I realized how little we understand and how badly we’ve failed to understand our democracy.
As a Californian — as a resident of the San Joaquin Valley — I found it almost impossible to escape the political shenanigans and cronyism that have so distorted the power of the three-person, one-vote in this state. There are a few good things about the District: It’s big enough to make your voice heard and small enough to avoid “out-of-District” voting, and the boundaries are such that it’s not too difficult to locate an individual congressman if you want to make a citizen’s arrest of his or her behavior or misdeeds (no, I’m not kidding.).
But I don’t agree with most of the conclusions drawn from this study.
First, there’s the obvious one: It’s difficult to get good data on how representative or representative-friendly our district and state are in any given election. There just isn’t a system like the one we have in place to collect and analyze information about the electorate.
It does seem that we have “a lot” of districts, since our state — the population-adjusted average of our Congressional Districts — has the third highest representation in California of any state. So we might hope that we have “a lot” of representatives at the lowest level of government, but they’re also a big “a lot” — and if we compare our district to its most populous U.S. state, we come up short again.
There’s another problem, too: The district definitions in this study don’t reflect the differences in population or even the demographics — which has