One state took a small step this week , but we’re a long way from eliminating noncompetitive districts and partisan malfeasance.


After the 1980 census, when California Democrats needed to redraw their state legislative districts, they turned to their map-making guru, Congressman Phillip Burton, one of the shrewdest political minds of his generation. Burton gave them a map so blatantly partisan that it sank the state’s Republicans into a minority status from which they haven’t recovered.

Needless to say, Republican legislators were livid. “What’s the matter?” Burton said. “Can’t they take a joke?”

Gerrymanders are no joke, as the congressman well knew. But they always look a lot more amusing to the party that draws them than to the party that finds itself frozen out. Shortly after Burton’s death in 1983, Democrats in the Legislature drew a congressional district for his widow, Sala, that all but precluded a serious GOP challenge. Democrats gleefully called it a Salamander. Republicans didn’t think that was so funny either.

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