Los Angeles Daily News
makes elections a moot point
By Bill Hillburg
October 20, 2002
fix has been in for more than a year on Southern California's
campaigns for Congress, with safe seats bought for $20,000 each by
incumbent Democrats and accepted gratis by equally self-interested
Instead of races that offer choices and raise issues,
the region's Nov. 5 ballots for the House are filled with guaranteed
safe seats thanks to a bipartisan reapportionment deal cut in August
Critics say the fix makes a mockery of the electoral process
and contributes to dwindling voter turnout.
Defenders say the deal
is the result of a perfectly legal maneuver that serves national
party goals while keeping effective, seniority-empowered lawmakers
Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez,
D-Garden Grove, initially refused to pay their required fee, and
Sanchez revealed the existence of the $20,000-per-seat tariff in an
interview with The Washington Post.
The ensuing furor was quickly
overwhelmed by news of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New
York and Washington, D.C.
Baca said last year that he was upset
with the process, which called for incumbents to pay $20,000 well
before they were handed a map of their new district.
Baca said that
his new bailiwick bore a strong resemblance to a district drawn for
him by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"MALDEF didn't charge me a thing,' said Baca.
Allan Hoffenblum, a
Los Angeles-based Republican campaign strategist, said, "People are
supposed to pick politicians. In California, the politicians pick
Bob Mulholland, a top strategist for California Democrats
and a member of the Democratic National Committee, said it was a
bipartisan solution that means less money spent on campaigns and
less confusion for the voters.
"The same people who want more
competitive races also want less campaign spending. You can't have
Robert Richie, executive director of The Center for Voting
and Democracy, a Washington-based watchdog group, said, "This
creation of safe seats is taking the people out of the House.
Without real races, you have no real debate on the issues. The
people are less informed and less likely to vote.'
recent report, titled "Monopoly Politics 2002: How No Choice
Elections Rule in a Competitive House,' identified only a handful of
real races among 435 contests nationwide. It forecast a wave of
incumbent and partisan landslides in California, which it called
"the poster child for efforts to shield incumbents.'
Hoffenblum advocate turning reapportionment over to nonpartisan
panels, as was recently done in Arizona, or to the courts.
also urged a return to the use of multiple-candidate districts.
Several states used the method in the past, allowing voters to chose
from multiparty slates and send more than one member to Congress
from larger districts.
Mulholland said such calls for reform are
merely sour grapes by the GOP, which hasn't dominated the
Legislature in a reapportionment year since 1951. He argued that
voters still have ample opportunity to choose candidates at the
"Most Republicans vote Republican, and most
Democrats vote Democrat,' said Mulholland. "If you're a Republican
and you move into a district that you know is Democratic, you
shouldn't be surprised that the Democrats are in control.'
majority party in the California Legislature, Democrats drew the
lines in the 2001 reapportionment, which was mandated by 2000 census
data that added a 53rd seat to the state's House delegation. The
Democrats' chief line drawers were Michael Berman, a veteran
Democratic strategist and the brother of Rep. Howard Berman,
D-Mission Hills, and Michael Berman's partner, Carl D'Agostino.
Michael Berman, D'Agostino and leading Democrats carved up the
state, adding areas with heavy Democratic registration or promising
demographics to incumbents' power bases and handing over Republican
enclaves to GOP members.
For their services, Berman and D'Agostino
charged each House Democrat $20,000.
The bottom line was a set of
safe seats for all 32 sitting Democrats, scandal-plagued Rep. Gary
Condit, D-Modesto, was later ousted in the primary, plus a new
Democratic seat in Los Angeles County.
Republicans were offered a
chance to keep their delegation total at 20. All they had to do was
jettison Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Lakewood, a moderate veteran of
competitive races in a Democrat-dominated district, in return for a
safe GOP seat in the Central Valley. GOP leaders also agreed not to
challenge the reapportionment plan in the courts, as they had in
1981 and 1991.
The highly respected Horn was duly sacrificed and
soon announced his retirement.
Hoffenblum said the bipartisan
reapportionment pact "was a sweetheart deal for the Republicans. It
meant that California, one of the most expensive states to campaign
in, was going to be out of play in the national race to control the
Rep. Howard P. "Buck' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, said at the
time the deal was announced, that the GOP tried very hard to save
Horn's seat but couldn't.
McKeon's new 25th District retained his
home bases in the Santa Clarita area and Antelope Valley while
adding new GOP-rich territory in areas ranging from Victorville to
Mulholland said Republicans, still reeling at the
polls in the wake of the anti-immigrant storm raised by former Gov.
Pete Wilson, were lucky to keep their 20 seats.
There were some
winners in the process. The San Fernando Valley area retained its
current Democrat-dominated delegation while gaining a larger
presence by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles.
The Inland Empire
also gained clout, especially if the GOP retains control of the
House. Rep. David Dreier, R-Covina, chairman of the House Rules
committee, was returned to the area in a new 26th District that
stretches from La Canada Flintridge to Rancho Cucamonga.
in the region with Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, chairman of the
Defense Appropriations Committee; and Ken Calvert, R-Riverside, who
chairs the Subcommittee on Water and Power.
The Long Beach area was
a major loser, as the vanquished Horn's district was sliced and
diced. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Torrance, gained 80
percent of Long Beach, while the city's coastal area and port were
lumped with West Orange County and the Palos Verdes Peninsula in a
safe seat for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.
Beach's adjoining suburbs were also parceled out. Cerritos and
Lakewood were placed in the new 39th District expected to be
represented by Democratic newcomer Linda Sanchez. Downey and
Bellflower gained clout by being allotted to Rep. Lucille
Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, a member of the House Appropriations
Other Democratic incumbents found fault with the
For his $20,000, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, was
shorn of 60 percent of his current constituents in Los Angeles and
"I don't want my money back; I want my district
back,' Sherman said after the reapportionment maps were released. He
later obtained some adjustments to his new district.
Hoffenblum said that, on the national party level, the quaint notion
of voters sending Mr. Smiths to Washington has been eclipsed by a
battle for control of speakers' and chairmen's gavels and the policy
agenda in the House. Democrats need to gain six seats to oust
Republicans from power.
The Pasadena area was an epicenter of the
national who-controls-the-House game in 2000. The GOP spent a record
$6 million trying to keep James Rogan in office while Democrats
ploughed $4 million into the campaign of winning Rep. Adam Schiff,
This year, Schiff is widely regarded as a shoo-in
against GOP challenger Jim Scileppi.
"Politics is all run from the
top down these days,' said Hoffenblum. "There's no grass-roots party
Democratic candidate Marjorie Mikels of Rancho Cucamonga
has no illusions about beating Dreier in the 26th District. To date,
she has raised $15,000. Dreier's war chest totals more than $2.6
"There are important issues, like the economy and the war
with Iraq, where I differ with Dreier,' she said. "But it takes a
lot of money to get your message out, and you have to be in a hot
race to get any money.'
She said she has received no money from the
Democratic Party or from allied groups like the Sierra Club.
said she recently received a "cold call' solicitation from the
California Democratic Party, asking her for a donation "so we can
take back the House.'
"I told the guy I was running for Congress as
a Democrat,' said Mikels. "If you want to take back the House, what
This article also appeared in the San
Bernadino Sun, Long Beach Press-Telegram and Inland Valley
Daily Bulletin on October 21, 2002.