Standing in a conference hall, with complicated chandeliers and the flags of every state that has passed an independent redistricting commission framing the stage, Schwarzenegger unveiled his latest move in the wonky fight that’s oddly become a decade-long obsession for him since changing the California laws while he was governor: creation of an organization he’s calling the Fair Maps Incubator, run out of the Schwarzenegger Institute on campus.
Schwarzenegger has eagerly been deploying his celebrity to get attention to the topic for years. Now he says he wants to accelerate the fight, bringing together those who’ve won non-partisan redistricting ballot initiatives to create an ongoing nexus of advice, information and connections for people in other states putting together their own campaigns.
The ballot initiatives passed in November in Colorado, Utah, Missouri and Michigan put half of all congressional districts under independent redistricting. Now, with movements to create independent commissions in Virginia, and more distantly, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas and New Jersey, Schwarzenegger announced from stage, his goal for 2020 was to get two-thirds of all House seats drawn by independent commissions.
In a conversation afterward, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that this probably wasn’t possible. But he kept comparing his crusade to when he started bodybuilding. It, too, was an obsession of out-there enthusiasts, but ended up going more mainstream, and eventually laid the path for him to become a multi-millionaire Hollywood icon and governor for seven years.
Realistically, Schwarzenegger said, he’s hoping for movement in four to six states over the next two years. “I shoot for the stars. It’s always easier to be short, and by accident go further. That’s not going to happen,” he said.
At the end of last year, Obama announced that he was folding his Organizing for Action group into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by his former attorney general, Eric Holder. In doing so, he blamed gerrymandering for the lack of action on everything from climate change to immigration reform. Schwarzenegger agrees. If there were more competitive House districts, he said, Congress might actually feel compelled to compromise and deliver for the voters, instead of all the members retreating into their partisan corners.
Look at the shutdown standoff, Schwarzenegger said. It’s become wall vs. no wall, without anyone talking about the Dreamers or border patrol, let alone anything like comprehensive immigration reform. The politicians don’t move for close to a month, while workers don’t get paid.
“How stupid of a dialogue is that? How do they get away with this crap?” he said. “Because they get re-elected.”