Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | August 12, 2008

Battle update

Jay Baksa got me thinking last week.

At the Gilroy Dispatch editorial board meeting, the former Gilroy city administrator looked up from reading my column about the chronic state budget woes and asked me if I got tired of writing about a problem that never gets fixed.

I replied that if I let the lack of prospect of significant change stop me, I’d probably never write another column.

But it also got me thinking about my chronic column topics and I decided it might be worth conducting an inventory and status check. What battles do I regularly join, and what are their current statuses?


Battle number one is redistricting reform. I’ve been writing for years about the need to remove the responsibility for drawing state Senate, state Assembly and congressional districts from state legislators, who have a clear conflict of interest.

Rather than drawing districts that put the best interests of their constituents first, legislators instead prioritize their own self-interests and the interests of their political parties.

Instead of drawing compact districts made up of communities with common interests, they draw sprawling, gerrymandered districts that ensure that incumbents are reelected, and if termed out, that the same political party retains each seat.

Redistricting is tied to the state budget woes. Because legislators know that their seats are ridiculously safe, legislators don’t have to be responsive to constituents and can play chicken with each other over the state budget with impunity.

Previous redistricting reform attempts have failed, defeated by politicians with vested interests in maintaining the status quo. This November, the League of Women Voters is backing Proposition 11, which only affects the creation of state Senate and state Assembly districts. I haven’t yet decided if exempting congressional districts is a fatal flaw.


Battle number two is eminent domain reform. Because it involves property rights, this is a civil liberties issue. Ever since the Supreme Court’s boneheaded ruling in 2005 in Kelo vs. New London that dangerously expanded eminent domain powers, it’s a battle that I’ve written frequently about.

Eminent domain is the power of the government to force the sale of private property to the government for public projects – things like roads, sewer plants, schools and libraries. However, after Kelo, governments have carte blanche to force the sale of private property for nonpublic projects.

In 2006, Californians rejected Prop 90, a sensible eminent domain reform initiative, after scare tactics from politically well-connected folks who benefit from the forced sale of private property for nonpublic projects.

They rejected another eminent domain reform initiative, Prop 98, this spring, and instead passed a full-of-loopholes, do-nothing proposition marketed as eminent domain reform, Prop 99.

If we don’t protect our civil liberties, we’ll lose them. Things are bleak on the eminent domain reform front.


Battle number three is same-sex marriage. When Mayor Gavin Newsom began allowing same-sex marriage licenses to be issued in San Francisco in February 2004, I celebrated with the many same-sex couples who shared my Feb. 13 wedding anniversary. Newsom’s decision led to a lawsuit that found its way to the California Supreme Court.

When the California Supreme Court ruled in May that the state constitution’s equal protection clause applies to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, thus legalizing same-sex marriage, I applauded. After all, the ruling was an important victory for civil rights, separation of church and state and civil liberties.

But I also warned that much work remains. Topping the to-do list is defeating Prop 8, the mean-spirited initiative that aims to write discrimination into the state’s constitution.

Even if California voters reject Prop 8 in November, the battle will not be won. Same-sex marriages are still illegal in all but one other state, and are not recognized in most states. These are not problems that opposite-sex couples face.

Much progress is being made in the marriage equality battle, but it is far from won.


What’s the lesson from this inventory? That even though challenges are daunting, the surest route to defeat is to stop fighting. We might not achieve redistricting reform, eminent domain reform or same-sex marriage throughout the United States soon, in my lifetime or, perhaps, ever. But the only way we can possibly achieve these important objectives is to keep working diligently on the issues.

I expect to write more columns on these topics – and other favorites, like separation of church and state, free speech, open government, voting and public libraries. These battles are worth joining, and I enjoy a good fight.



  1. This Thursday, August 14th, from 5:30 p.m – 8:30 p.m. at 2020 Main Street, Irvine, California:

    ACTION ALERT: Tell the Right-Wing Consultants NO to Prop 8!

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