Phillip Burton, the congressman and legendary San Francisco political boss, called it his contribution to modern art.

That would be the 1981 congressional reapportionment plan for California.

If you like want to try your hand at abstract art and your dance card is clear for, oh, 2011, the state will soon start accepting applications for appointments to an independent commission that will draw legislative boundaries after the 2010 census.

By passing Proposition 11 last year, voters took the job away from legislators, who used to have the power to pick their own voters. When they couldn’t agree, the job fell to the Supreme Court.

Given increasingly sophisticated databases that can mine voter rolls, election returns and an array of demographic data, competitive legislative elections have all but disappeared, except for the occasional primary contest. That’s a major reason that the Capitol is populated by hardcore conservatives and unwavering liberals, and cooperation and compromise are treated like cowardice and surrender.

The authors of Proposition 11 exempted congressional districts, in effect choosing self preservation (the state’s House members were prepared to spend millions to defeat Proposition 11) over principle. A successful effort by the commission probably would create pressure to extend the system to Congress for the next round of reapportionment.

The state auditor ( will begin accepting applications for the 14 commission slots on Dec. 15. You’re not eligible if you’re a registered lobbyist, if you’ve changed party affiliation in the past five years or if you have made more than $2,000 in campaign contributions. You may be asked to write a 250-word essay. Perhaps an appreciation of Piccaso’s work?

— Jim Sweeney