In 2008, California voters approved an initiative so common-sensical that it's hard to believe it passed. Proposition 11 took the job of creating legislative districts away from the state legislature and gave it to a non-partisan fourteen member commission. In other words, no longer would career politicians have the authority to create districts designed to ensure either the re-election of incumbents or one party's stranglehold on a legislative seat. Instead, a commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members of neither party would draw district boundaries. In subsequent elections, the top two finishers in district primaries would face each other in a general election, regardless of party affiliation (i.e., if the top two finishers were both Democrats or both Republicans, they would compete against each other, rather than against a less-successful candidate of the opposing party).
Impartial drawing of legislative districts! What a concept! Who could be against that?
Well, career politicians who suddenly find themselves having to appeal to a broader electorate, sure. But what real people could be against that?
And now, California is enjoying the results. A legislature that has to be at least somewhat responsive to the general public--as opposed to special interests or to the most-extreme wings of its members' constituencies--has actually managed to, y'know, legislate. Skeptics will point out that the only reason such harmony exists is that the legislature has come to be dominated by one party--Democrats--who also hold the governorship. They may be right. Of course, non-skeptics would point out that the fact that Democrats dominate the legislature following non-partisan redistricting simply shows how artificial and unrepresentative the previous district boundaries were.
Furthermore, despite Democratic control of everything, California has hardly become a socialist paradise. Yes, significant left-wing legislation has been passed, allowing such things as driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, but at the same time, according to an article in today's Times, 39 out of 40 bills identified as "job killers" by the typically Republican-friendly Chamber of Commerce have gone down to defeat. In other words, when legislators don't have to cater only to one side of the political aisle, they can afford to take what they see as common-sense stands in accordance with their own judgment. This is not to say that their judgments are always right, but we have become so used to knee-jerk liberalism or conservatism, that it is refreshing to see moderation, especially when it seems to be associated with functioning governance.
California has often served as a testing ground for national policies. Maybe the rest of the country could take a note from the Golden State now.