For would be-political candidates in California, 2011 must be shaping up as a surreal experience. They want to campaign, but they don't know where.
The uncertainty stems from the new way that congressional and state legislative districts will be organized in 2011 for the 2012 elections.
The state is required by law to rebalance district populations of districts after every census.
This time, however, the process is being carried out by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, courtesy of a ballot proposition passed by the voters in 2008. Previously, districts were created by the legislature, with the outcomes criticized by some observers as self-serving because of the ways lopsided party registration numbers were grouped together, while maintaining equal population sizes. But the new commission will consider populations irrespective of partisan breakdowns.
The commission has promised that the new districts will be made public by August 15.
That may be just fine for incumbents with large campaign war chests; they will merely redirect their campaigns to the boundaries of their new districts, which hopefully overlap their present boundaries.
But challengers will face a more daunting task. Without any firm boundaries to identify as the district for their candidacies, challengers have to guess the outcome in advance.
That kind of uncertainty is not likely to sit well with potential contributors, who will be asked to give to a new candidate with no certain knowledge of whether his or her district will be without an incumbent or be largely the province of someone already there.
Because of this "no man's land" moment for political boundaries, many candidates, particularly incumbents, are biding their time until they know the district in which they will run. Challengers don't have that luxury, which has led many to declare candidacies for races they may well abandon down the road.
All this suggests that incumbents may well fare better in 2012 than reformers had hoped. For challengers who hoped that less partisan districts might open opportunities, their day may have to wait.
Sometimes reform is not all it's cracked up to be.