California's Redistricting News
Desert Sun: "Our Voice: Dividing Communities Won't Guarantee
Latino Candidates" September 12, 2004
Map of proposed Congressional districts available August 31, 2001
Given that Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing segments of the Coachella Valleyís population, they should of course hold elected positions of authority -- as mayors and as members of the city council. Hispanic representation translates into government access and the ability to influence public policies. Communities need to explore ways to get them involved, including:
In an effort to get more Latinos elected to leadership positions, some
communities have converted from at-large elections to those that are
district-based elections; it is a wrong-headed approach. Taxpayers should
elected the person who will do the best job; we believe Latinos can
represent Caucasian constituents and vice versa.
There are few things in politics more vulnerable to partisan paranoia and myth than redistricting. Not surprisingly, much about redistricting reform is exaggeration and bad public policy.
I was involved in the 1981-82 redistricting and was the staff director of the state Senate's 1991 redistricting. I was also invited, although I declined, to work on the 2001 Assembly redistricting. To some, I am a gerrymanderer who draws funny lines to help Democrats and hound Republicans.
According to redistricting mythology, Californians have suffered from decades of Democratic gerrymandering, thwarting the voters' desire to elect Republican majorities as well as the principles of democracy. Salvation lies in taking politics out of redistricting through independent commissions and objective criteria. Reality is rather different.
Republicans in California, as well as Democrats in places like Indiana, have used gerrymandering like sports fans use game officials: an all-purpose excuse to avoid hard truths.
Republicans have claimed Democratic gerrymanders have prevented them from electing a legislative majority. In fact, two of the last four redistricting plans were drawn by the state Supreme Court. In 1991 and earlier in 1973, the court imposed plans praised by Republicans and the news media as fair and competitive. Yet, Republican majorities never materialized.
In 1991, after the last election held under the famous 1982-83 gerrymander, the GOP had 44 seats in the Legislature. The court's new plan was in effect for the 1992-2000 elections. When the polls closed in 2000, Republicans had 44 seats, exactly where they had been 10 years before.
The bottom line is clear. Of the 16 legislative election cycles between 1974 and 2004, nine were fought in districts drawn by the state Supreme Court. In those nine elections, covering 17 years, Republicans failed to elect majorities in the state Senate and only once (1994) in the Assembly.
Reformers believe in objective criteria and independent commissions. Objective criteria, however, are not objective, and independent commissions are rarely independent.
Choose your criteria
Criteria can conflict and once one is deemed more important than another, subjectivity replaces objectivity. Compactness, respect for local boundaries and protecting communities of interest are touted as objective criteria. But compact city boundaries is an oxymoron in Fresno and California cities. Communities of interest spill over city lines, especially in the urban sprawls of Southern California.
What is an objective way of deciding which criteria is more important? Electoral competition is a favorite cure-all, but it is impossible to make a majority of districts competitive. Just imagine the geographic monstrosities necessary to make a district in south Orange County or San Francisco competitive.
Independent commissions have a miserable track record. Arizona has been hailed as a model by reformers, yet those involved admit that partisan politics permeated the commission process. The hard truth is that redistricting is inherently political and promising to de-politicize it will only create false and harmful expectations.
My biggest objection is that the redistricting reforms are fundamentally harmful to our representative democracy. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we salute the flag but pledge ourselves "to the republic for which it stands." The heart of a republic is the belief that people govern themselves by electing representatives to make decisions on their behalf. That belief is made real through legislatures.
It's naive to tell voters that the Legislature cannot be trusted with a particular task and not think the lasting message is that the Legislature cannot handle any task. We live in an era in which political expediency, cultural impatience and gotcha journalism are eroding the very virtues of representative democracy celebrated by the Framers. Debate is scorned as bickering, deliberation as sloth and compromise as selling out. If the people think redistricting is a legitimate problem, fine. But, there is no reason to propose reforms that weaken the legitimacy of the system.
If reform is needed, make it compatible with representative democracy. The problem is not the Legislature but inadequate checks and balances on the actions of legislators. Instead of giving redistricting authority to judges or philosopher kings, create effective checks and balances on real or perceived redistricting problems.
Give the Legislature a concrete deadline for passing redistricting plans that comply with various criteria. Once passed, the plans would be reviewed by a panel of retired judges who could implement the plans or send them back for revision. If the Legislature fails again, the panel would impose its own plans. In short, use the precepts of the Framers rather than partisan frustration and political myths to improve rather than bash representative government. What a concept!
The two-party gerrymander imposed by our Legislature in 2001 is absolute proof that our elected officials are out of touch with the people. Here's why:
The arena, said Theodore Roosevelt, is the place where politics is played out. Those arenas in California are the state Senate, Assembly, Board of Equalization and congressional districts. These arenas are where our modern-day politicians have rigged the game in their own favor and cut the voters out.
Unfortunately, the modern-day gladiators are not the candidates (as you may think). The true combatants are the managers and political consultants who are approved by the political caucuses of the two major parties in California. These caucuses have become the new gatekeepers of millions of dollars of special-interest campaign funds.
Those millions fill your mailbox with targeted mail each election year. They control massive phone banks and fund slate mailers to voters that do little more than fatten the wallets of political consultants.
These modern-day gladiators are armed with sophisticated computer databases on every voting precinct in California that can tell, with great accuracy, who is going to win any given election before a single vote is cast. They know the maximum and minimum numbers of votes their respective parties can get from each precinct.
Precincts that favor one incumbent or one party can be lumped together to ensure an outcome. This is where redistricting comes in, the once-a-decade process of reshaping the arenas after the census. That process is so easily manipulated by those insiders at the controls that you have a formula for instant corruption.
Senators and Assembly members have always crafted their district lines with one theme: to suit the purposes of the incumbent.
What was different about the redistricting done in 2001 is that an arrangement was made between the two parties to eliminate competitive districts, thereby creating 14 Senate Republican districts that will only elect Republicans, and 26 Senate Democratic districts that will only elect Democrats.
These districts have been crafted in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for anyone from the opposing party to get elected in that district within the next 10 years.
A classic case is the Board of Equalization, where Senate Republican boss Jim Brulte and Assembly Republican boss Bill Leonard crafted districts for themselves, although they are neighbors. To do so, they drew a district that reaches from Los Angeles to the Oregon border.
I find nobody who sees good government in that action. It's selfish insider manipulation, pure and simple.
Political scientists, public-interest groups and major newspapers around the state have spoken out against this arrangement. You can find only two groups of people supporting these districts: elected officials and the powerful special interests that snuggle up to them.
The grim fact is that, over the next 10 years, no one will be allowed to play in the arenas unless they're blessed by the political party bosses, and the two major parties in California are happy with the current arrangement as long as the money and perks keep flowing.
The real campaign battles fought over the next 10 years won't be over policies, but over who is the most loyal to the party bosses. Short of a landslide of historical proportions, the people of California are left with no legislative remedy if they want to effect major change in education, transportation and taxation.
Who sits in the Legislature is very important to the two major parties, again, not because of the ability to enact new policies, but because the party in power has great control over regulatory agencies, makes thousands of political appointments to up-and-coming gladiators, hands out pay raises to state employees and has a major impact on who gets major state contracts.
From this background, the party in power is able to raise millions in campaign donations to play in the arena.
'Reshuffling the cards'
It is impossible to think about reforming the political process without reshuffling the cards to give the voters a new deal. That means taking the redistricting pencil out of the Legislature's hands.
California voters must ask themselves a question: Do they want the option of replacing a bad legislator?
If so, the people must retake control of the game board. They must take the power to draw political district boundaries for themselves by reforming the process.
Thankfully, a few legislators understand the problem and are stepping forward to help lead the reform. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, is one. But the people will have to get directly involved now to make the reform happen.
Massachusetts politics were rough and tumble in 1812.
Two-term Gov. Elbridge Gerry was in the middle of a political dogfight between his Democratic-Republican Party (commonly called the Jeffersonians) and the Federalist Party. At 68, he had seen his share of battles, but he was desperate to keep his party in power at a time when he needed support for his programs in the Massachusetts Legislature.
To ensure that upcoming state Senate elections would go his way, he worked with senate leaders to approve a map of the state that assured victory for his party.
This map contorted the county of Essex most severely, allowing the new senate district for that region to look like a lengthy salamander and the term "gerrymander" was born.
What Gerry did to the map of Massachusetts may not have been a novel approach to winning elections in a representative government, but it has gone down in history as the most blatant and cunning.
Unfortunately, for the residents of California today, Gerry's legacy lives on. Like all states in the union, every 10 years after the census numbers come in, politicians break out maps of their states and carve up the territories. The process is as ripe for corruption today as it was in 1812.
California's power players still control the apparatus of redistricting and the outcome of elections. Unlike the Massachusetts example of old, however, the parties in power here are not simply battling each other.
Instead, they have been engaged in a pattern of scratching each other's backs, regardless of party, to protect their seats. Sitting legislators today are not as worried about the other party taking over as much as worrying about how to carve up the state to save their own incumbent skins.
Imagine a scenario where the fox is guarding the henhouse, the farmhouse and the outhouse.
So does all of this talk about the politics of redistricting really have an impact on the average Californian in any meaningful way? Absolutely. There are few things more dangerous than a politician who does not have to fight for re-election.
By working on a budget of nearly $100 billion each year, the Legislature plays with your tax dollars on a massive scale.
From designating tax dollars for local police and fire protection, to the cost of tuition for a college student you may know, to multimillion-dollar contracts to build roads and prisons, to deciding the proper amount for health and human services spending, the 40 senators and 80 Assembly members make decisions daily that affect our lives.
Along with the governor, they control the purse strings of state government and determine the policies under which we must work and play.
Reapportionment is such a powerful, overriding issue in every state legislature. Former speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Tom Loftus, pointed out its importance: "Often in a legislature, the answer is reapportionment regardless of what the question happens to be."
Nuts and bolts
To begin, while the terms "reapportionment" and "redistricting" have become somewhat synonymous, a bit of a clarification is in order. Reapportionment generally refers to numbers of individuals and how they are shifted around to get a proper balance in a geographic area. For example, the number of members of Congress has stayed the same since 1911 when it was "fixed" at 435, but the population of the United States has grown and shifted considerably since then.
Every 10 years, the nation's population is divided by 435 and that number represents the number of people served by each member. Currently, with our population around 285 million, a House member represents roughly 650,000 Americans. With this system, fast-growing states gain seats in the House and some states lose them.
Regardless of how a state fares during reapportionment, state legislatures are responsible for drawing the boundaries for all of these districts each decade.
The term redistricting refers to the geographic areas in which the newly reapportioned people are placed. Normally, like the size of Congress, the size of state legislatures remains constant and the drawing of state Assembly and Senate seats is done at the same time.
In a fast-growing state like California, the political process takes over. The population is shuffled around on paper to fit new Congressional, state Assembly and state Senate districts. And, as they say at the start of the Olympics, "Let the games begin."
What's wrong with the current system? Why can't the Legislature and governor simply produce a fair plan that balances the needs of all concerned parties and encourages competitive elections for the voters? As Elbridge Gerry discovered in 1812, it's not that simple.
For starters, the history of redistricting is fraught with scandal, court challenges and what is often termed "malapportionment." Through the 1950s, elected officials at the state level drew redistricting maps that for the most part went unchallenged until the federal courts intervened substantially in the cases of Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964).
These landmark cases supported the concept of "one person, one vote" and that both houses of all state legislatures should be apportioned based on population. This sent several states back to the drawing board with numbers drawn from the 1960 census.
The Nevada decision
The result of these decisions may be best exemplified in the case of one of our neighbor states -- Nevada.
According to political scientist Michael W. Bowers, for "50 years the Senate was wildly malapportioned, with representation not commensurate with population."
For decades, its Senate was apportioned on the basis of one senator per county, rewarding the less-populated rural counties in Nevada and punishing the fast-growing Clark County/Las Vegas area. The federal courts stepped in and the legislature "grudgingly reapportioned its seats."
A similar shift in power from rural areas to larger cities took place in California and other states during the next few election cycles as more court challenges developed and redistricting battles took place over issues of race, ethnicity, political party strength and urban versus suburban growth.
Early attempts by voters using the initiative process to move the entire operation out of the hands of the California Legislature have fared pitifully at the polls. As historian John M. Allswang has stated: "... seven out of eight reapportionment initiatives lost (the sole exception was in 1926), and all three legislative redistrictings that were subject to referendums [were] undone."
The latest of these came in 1990 when Propositions 118 and 119, both attempting to address problems with the system but in different ways, went down to defeat by overwhelming majorities.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, more than 40 such initiatives this century dealing with reapportionment or redistricting were rejected by voters, failed to qualify for the ballot or were withdrawn from circulation.
Can't pry them out
By the 1990s, redistricting could best be thought of as a pendulum swinging between the needs of elected officials and the courts and the voting rights of citizens to have fair and competitive elections.
While a number of states developed plans that took into account federal voting regulations and court decisions, many states stuck with good-old-boy plans crafted specifically to protect incumbents and the party in power.
How good were these plans? Most allowed the dominant party to stay in power and incumbency reelection rates rose dramatically. Often referred to as "nails without heads" because they are so difficult to remove from office, state legislative incumbents have "reelection rates [that] rival the 90-plus percent level now prevalent in the U.S. House of Representatives," according to political party scholar John F. Bibby.
Mirroring a nationwide trend, in California the average cost of an Assembly campaign is going up substantially. Now it's over $400,000 and fewer and fewer seats are competitive.
Granted, incumbents have other advantages besides the redistricting plans that keep their seats safe, such as name recognition, professional staffs in most states, frequent newspaper endorsements and lackluster voter support for new faces, but rigging the game to their advantage is the perfect starting point.
The battle in California of 2001 is a glaring example of just how outrageous the incumbency-protection system has become, for there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest present when state legislators, in particular, get to draw their own districts.
Basically, all of the incumbents -- Democrats and Republicans -- in the Legislature and Congress struck a deal.
To protect their own seats, they redrew district lines to ensure their own victories at the polls even at the expense of creating competitive races. All but a handful of seats were made safe for both parties, meaning that listening to constituents became less important and compromise in policy-making less probable.
Gridlock and petty squabbles ensued while the state's economy was sinking deeper into financial crisis and real leadership was nowhere to be found. After all, how would you act in your job if you knew you wouldn't be fired?
Gov. Gray Davis ended up personifying the paralysis in Sacramento, but many others were also to blame for fiddling while the Capitol burned.
How to fix it
There is a better way to conduct redistricting and elections in this state. We can look toward several other states for strong models of good governance.
I advocate that California move toward an independent, commission-style form of redistricting in which as much power as possible is taken out of the hands of the incumbents.
Several states have already adopted such plans or are in the process of tweaking their current plans to produce more-competitive elections. The goal should be to produce a commission plan that we can look back on and be proud of 20 or 30 years from now.
Simply moving to a commission system is not enough in itself. If legislators get to choose most or all of the commissioners, stacking the deck so to speak, the commissions can still favor incumbents in the plans they recommend. Instead, what is needed is similar to what is currently done in Iowa or Arizona.
In Iowa, a nonpartisan legislative office, not a commission, draws the plans, but it does not use political information such as voter party affiliation or past election results.
The Legislature and governor still approve final plans, but there is intense pressure from the public and media to do so.
In Arizona, a new, voter-approved independent commission draws a plan that takes mainly non-political issues into account and adds strict criteria ensuring that districts are competitive.
While the demographics of California certainly do not mirror those of Iowa or Arizona, there is no reason to believe that modified versions of these types of plans could not be successful here.
No plan is perfect and "you can't take the politics out of redistricting," as researcher Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures recently said. "The track record is about even ... commission systems are just as likely to be corrected or overturned" by the courts as straight legislative plans.
But we have to start somewhere and we have to start planning for the 2010 redistricting now. The process will not be easy because history suggests that few legislatures will give up this power voluntarily.
Perhaps California could enact a plan to draw state legislative districts more fairly one year and work on Congressional districts the next time, based on how the state plans pan out.
As redistricting scholar Michael P. McDonald has written, for the most part the system "provides politicians a chance to choose voters, rather than allowing voters to choose politicians."
This needs to come to an end.
If you feel you sometimes have no real choice at election time, you are right. Incumbent politicians of both parties have hijacked the ballot box in California.
The last time you cast your ballot in a general election for a state or federal representative, politicians around California already knew who would win in your area. That's because politicians have rigged the system so that political districts are overwhelmingly Democrat or Republican and thus, the outcome of many elections is never in question.
For example, in my Congressional District, Republicans far outnumber Democrats. My colleague to the west represents a district with an overwhelming number of Democrats. While members of our own respective parties could challenge and defeat us in a primary election, the political affiliation representing the district is unlikely to change.
So, why should I complain? After all, I am fortunate to represent you in the U.S. House. I complain because this is not democracy. Voters should have a real choice when they go to the ballot box. Politicians should be held accountable by the people they represent. That's good for democracy.
Alive and well
Gerrymandering is nothing but a cheater's political tool in which the boundaries of a political district are drawn in such a way as to include the maximum number of people who vote a particular way.
Gerrymandering is alive and well in California. Officeholders of both parties cooperate to serve their personal interests at the expense of the voters. For example, there is a congressional district along the central coast that is 200 miles long and five miles wide. The only reason for a district to be drawn in such a ridiculous way is to pack as many people of one party into it as possible.
The result is that whole communities are split up among several representatives. Before I took office, Visalia was shared among three members of Congress. All of them did well, but many people in Visalia could not identify their own particular representative.
The lines were redrawn after the 2000 census, and now I represent all of Tulare County, including the entire city of Visalia. However, the situation is worse in the city and county of Fresno, which is divided among three and four congressmen, respectively.
This has caused confusion and frustration among residents who call our offices seeking help on a federal matter only to be redirected to another congressman's office.
So, who is in charge of drawing these lines? Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature who worked together to protect themselves. What resulted was the ultimate incumbent-protection plan. It is an inherent conflict when the folks running for election in these districts are the same folks who draw the boundaries of the districts.
Take away their pencils
I believe we need to take the pencils out of their hands and give them to a panel of retired judges who would be required to draw the boundaries of the political districts under a strict set of rules -- without regard to the political affiliations of the residents. The criteria would center around one principle: To the greatest extent possible, keep cities, communities, towns and counties whole.
Inevitably, some communities would be shared between two or more representatives, such as Los Angeles or other cities with large populations. And, some areas would certainly contain higher numbers of Republicans or Democrats. However, that would no longer be the result of politicians purposefully trying to subvert the will of the people.
California has been beset by political turmoil in the past year. The voters have spoken, and they clearly want to see change in the state Capitol. But as long as politicians are allowed to stack the deck in their favor, voters will be limited in the amount of change they can effect at the ballot box. For the sake of the democratic process here in California, we need to change the system, so that voters are allowed to pick their politicians instead of politicians picking their voters.
There's a wackiness factor that makes California's political scene fascinating for the public and the late-night comics, but this sideshow actually is a diversion that allows state legislators to give away government goodies to special interests while the public's not paying attention.
Even if voters catch wind of legislative missteps, the politicians are protected by a system that makes it very difficult for any of them to lose an election. It's called "redistricting" and even the name turns off people who otherwise might be interested in fixing a public-policy challenge.
That's fine with the politicians. They'd much rather have voters talking about the oddities of government than the tedium of deciding how many Democrats and Republicans live in each legislative or congressional district.
Legislative leaders understand that if they can stack the deck in the redistricting process, nothing else really matters. "Gerrymandering" has gone on for years all over the country, but California legislators have refined this political manipulation, and the taxpayers are paying the price.
Under the current system, Democrats will win most of the legislative seats and Republicans will be guaranteed a minority share. You'd think the Republicans would complain, but they are content to keep their seats, which include government salaries, state-leased cars and gasoline credit cards.
It's a system that protects the politicians, and the voters don't even realize they're being ripped off.
So while the high-profile recall election last fall has been called a reform movement, the only one who got reformed was Gray Davis. Since then, it's been mostly business as usual in Sacramento, despite the best efforts of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose popularity is his best political advantage.
But while a governor got recalled in October, nothing happened to the Legislature's 80 Assembly members and 40 state senators. These are the folks who brought California record budget deficits, union contracts for public employees that defy common sense and energy deregulation that gave us widespread blackouts and allowed Enron and others to gouge residents on their energy bills.
Reform in California will be a joke as long as the Legislature has control over the redistricting process, and nothing will change if the public doesn't start paying attention. During the recall election, taxpayers whined about the car tax that cost them a few hundred dollars, but didn't make the connection between legislative districts that allow politicians to remain out of reach of voters and the multibillion-dollar mess in Sacramento.
It's a system that allows incumbents to essentially have a guarantee that they will be re-elected as long as they don't do anything really stupid. And even that's a stretch in the insular world of California politics.
In the San Joaquin Valley, politicians were elected to the Legislature after soliciting prostitutes and pleading no contest to statutory rape. But it seems that politicians are out of the reach of voters in their legislative districts.
Of the 120 districts in California, only five are competitive, says state Controller Steve Westly, who supports turning over redistricting to an independent commission.
"I'm one of the few Democrats willing to stand up to (Senate leader) John Burton and say the elections are rigged," Westly said last week. "There was a better chance of losing an election in the Supreme Soviet in the 1960s than in the Legislature today."
Over the years, there have been attempts to take redistricting from the Legislature and give it to a commission made up of either retired judges or appointees who would take a more objective view of the process. But the politicians and the special interests have successfully blocked the reforms.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, ran up against his House colleagues on the issue in April when he suggested a change in the redistricting process. He supported a plan to put redistricting in the hands of a three-judge commission. The Republican caucus essentially patted the freshman on the head and ignored his proposal.
Ted Costa of Sacramento, who sponsored the initiative to recall Gray Davis last fall, is circulating an initiative to reform the redistricting system. Westly, the state controller, said he's also trying to put together a bipartisan initiative to change the process.
Westly thinks voters have begun to understand the unfairness of the redistricting process, and says it's crucial to keep debate on the issue in the public arena.
But if one of the reform initiatives qualifies for the ballot, it would be foolish to think that this issue would be decided on its merits. The politicians and their special-interest pals have too much to lose. They run their best campaigns when they don't have to stick to the facts.
About a decade ago -- in fact, just as the 1990s round of redistricting started to wind down -- I began to research redistricting practices, and ultimately to do consulting work, in other countries.
One important discovery I made is that redistricting need not be as contentious and as partisan as it is in the United States.
Most Western democracies, including those with districting systems like the United States, employ nonpartisan commissions, and an established hierarchy of rules, to redistrict. The redistricting process and its result rarely, if ever, register on the political radar.
On the other hand, recent United Nations election missions to the Congo and Afghanistan have taught me the true meaning of the phrase "redistricting battle."
At the point of a gun
In Afghanistan, for example, a local commander will simply create a district for himself and those who object to this (like neighboring warlords or the central government), at least those who object strenuously enough, will most likely have to resort to armed conflict to dislodge him.
So I guess as contentious as redistricting is in the United States, it could be worse. Of course, we really should not find much solace in that fact that our redistricting battles here in the United States are not as bloody as they are in some Third World, conflict-ridden societies like Afghanistan.
During the 19th century, in Europe and in self-governing European colonies around the world, the drawing of district boundaries was the responsibility of the legislature. Partisan politics and gerrymandering were as much a part of the British, Australian and Canadian redistricting processes as they were here in the United States.
But in most Western democracies, the idea that politicians are best excluded from redistricting has emerged and legislators have opted out, handing the process over to neutral commissioners. The United States is the only notable exception to this rule.
Britain probably pioneered the commission approach to redistricting several generations ago, although it may no longer provide the best (or at least the most efficient) example of redistricting by a neutral, nonpartisan commission.
Most of the major democracies once ruled from the United Kingdom have followed suit and adopted impartial commissions for redistricting: Australia, New Zealand and Canada to name just a few countries that have adopted, and perhaps even improved upon, the nonpartisan commission approach to redistricting.
And, as remarkable as we here in the United States may find it, there is general acceptance in these countries regarding the neutrality of these boundary commissions.
There is general acceptance in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom that the redistricting process is independent and fair. Since the adoption of independent nonpartisan redistricting commissions, the process has never been considered politically charged in these countries. The reason for this is at least twofold:
Politicians have virtually no role at all to play in the process. Although they can submit objections (just like every interested citizen) during the inquiry process, they do not draw district lines, nor do they have a vote on the plan to be enacted, nor can they challenge a plan in court.
Even in New Zealand, where "political" appointees, serve on the Representation Commission, the membership of the commission is dominated numerically by nonpolitical appointees and the "political" appointees to the commission cannot outvote the nonpolitical members.
No political tinkering
The decisions of these boundary authorities have the force of law and cannot be negated by the legislature or challenged in court (except under extraordinary circumstances).
However, it should be noted that the lack of partisan considerations does not mean a lack of partisan consequences -- all redistricting plans have partisan consequences. It does mean that the partisan consequences are unintentional.
The word "redistricting" usually evokes images of politicians plotting their political futures in smoke-filled rooms. For Latinos, redistricting is many times synonymous with disenfranchisement. Similarly, voting in many at-large electoral systems -- those where all of a city's voters elect all of the representatives -- results in the dilution of Latino voting strength.
In the 1980s, for example, while nearly half the residents of the city of Watsonville were Latino, all seven members of its city council were white. This long-standing pattern frustrated Latino voters, who had not been able to elect anyone to the city council for years. City leaders felt that the city and its elected officials were being unresponsive to the community's needs.
Watsonville's lack of Latino representation was directly attributable to its "at-large" electoral system. The white majority consistently elected every member of the city council. Despite several Latinos running for city council, they could never win because the majority white voting bloc never voted for them. This pattern of racially polarized voting provided the basis for a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund that challenged Watsonville's electoral system.
MALDEF sought the implementation of fair, district-based elections in which residents of a particular area of the city would more likely be able to elect a candidate of their choice. In 1988, the courts held that the at-large system violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered that new districts be drawn. The following year, the city elected its first Latino mayor and Mexican-American city council members. Today, five of the seven council members are Latino.
The case in Watsonville demonstrates how different election systems can advance or deprive the voting rights of minority citizens. MALDEF's lawsuit successfully challenged the city's practices under the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Passed in 1965, the law is intended to address our country's unfortunate history of denying minority voters their rights. California now has an important new tool at its disposal -- the California Voting Rights Act -- specifically tailored to address the problems of racially polarized voting. At-large jurisdictions across the state must examine their own voting practices and history to ensure that they are not liable under this powerful new law.
It is important to note that MALDEF has not endorsed any new proposals now circulating to change the statewide redistricting process. Of particular concern to MALDEF and the Latino community is ensuring that the manner in which electoral districts are drawn ensures that everyone's vote counts.
The redistricting process, using mathematical formulas and census data, can seem very complicated and confusing to the average resident. In most states, including California, it is a process that unfortunately is often biased toward protecting incumbents and partisan goals rather than upholding the guarantees of the Voting Rights Act. Redistricting can violate the act by establishing districts that deprive Latino voters of an effective voice by cutting either them out of districts ("fracturing") or pressing them in districts too densely ("packing").
Every stage of the redistricting process -- from the rules and procedures used to select map-drawing consultants to the availability of public input on proposed plans -- must protect the rights of all Californians.
There are many things that stink in the California Legislature, but nothing is as smelly as the politicians drawing the boundaries of their own districts to guarantee re-election. The system robs voters of a choice of elected officials and allows legislators to disregard their constituents as they cut cozy and costly deals with the special interests.
We have paid for this outrage with our tax dollars, terrible public policy and a cynicism about government that will have a long-lasting effect in this state.
It's time to change the system. It must be fairer and more democratic.
We have long supported a redistricting process that gives an independent commission the power to draw legislative and congressional lines. The commission would be a step removed from the Legislature and reduce the direct conflict of interest that the politicians now have in the process.
The politicians hate the idea, of course, because it would create competitive legislative and congressional districts and give voters more of a say in how their government is run. It would also return accountability to the Legislature, which is clearly needed more than ever given the many missteps we've seen in Sacramento the past few years.
The Legislature has shown that it can't be trusted to act in the public interest when the issue is drawing the boundaries of their own districts.
The best argument for change came in 2001 when the Legislature created its most outrageous redistricting plan yet. It wasn't enough for the legislators to merely protect the party in power. They protected all the incumbents -- Democrats and Republicans alike, locking in for 10 years district lines that guarantee the parties will determine who gets elected and not the voters.
It was a conspiracy that essentially said democracy didn't matter in California. In a two-party system, the two parties agreed not to compete at all.
The Legislature knew it could get away with this manipulation because the public doesn't care about how district lines are drawn. Citizens should care if for no other reason than it's costing them money. Because the 2001 redistricting scandal locked in the Democrats' dominance of Sacramento politics, it pushed state policy to the left and then-Gov. Gray Davis was only too happy to sign legislation that paid off the special interests.
The cabal not only wiped out a huge state budget surplus, it essentially put state business up for auction. The highest bidders often were the public employee unions -- the California Teachers Association and the prison guards union were at the top of the list -- and they obtained costly goodies for their members. The gambling tribes also used their money to manipulate public policy by contributing millions to the politicians.
Ironically, this abuse of power was one of the reasons that Davis was recalled by voters last fall. But the legislators who also were responsible are still in office.
It's time to stop this ugly farce and put the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission. There have been several proposals suggested. Most would have the commission made up of retired judges, who would establish a redistricting plan for the Assembly, state Senate and members of Congress from California.
Voters deserve to have a choice in elections, and an independent redistricting commission would give them that choice.
Redistricting "reform" advocates in California have a new resource on their side: the successes and failures of states using "reformed" approaches to their 2001 redistrictings. Before 2001, most reform concepts were untested. Today, we have examples that show the advantages and disadvantages of different reforms.
Although many other states have experienced redistricting abuse, California's record of partisan and bipartisan gerrymandering is practically unmatched.
Our current incumbent-protection gerrymander produced virtually invulnerable incumbents: In the 2002 election, the smallest margin of victory for any California congressional incumbent was more than 18%, and the average was 68%. Only an earthquake in the state's political landscape could endanger any incumbent in such extremely gerrymandered districts. This unresponsiveness to potential changes in the voters' views undermines the essence of representative government.
There are three main ingredients for reform:
* Strict criteria that impose constraints on how the districts will be drawn.
* A trustworthy person or persons in charge.
* An open process with significant public participation.
The states that successfully adopted redistricting reform in the 1990s won over their voters through a focus on two clear an easily understandable goals: undivided communities of interest and competitive districts. California's incumbent-protection plans are deeply vulnerable on both scores, for they divide up communities of interest (to prevent the rise of community leaders as potential challengers), and they eliminate most competitive districts.
There are many available measurements of competitiveness: the presidential or gubernatorial vote in the district: averages of state-wide elections; a combination of vote results and registration; statistical measures such as the "Judgelt" system used by Arizona's Impendent Redistricting Commission; and other approaches.
A redistricting commission should be assigned, as a first task, the selection of an appropriate measure of competitiveness.
Communities of interest pose a more difficult challenge. The Rose Institute's years of research led to some clear conclusions.
* First, the best definitions of communities of interest are provided by the people who live in those communities. We have shown that ordinary citizens are both interested an capable enough to develop such definitions. also, the people drawing the district lines should not be the same ones defining the communities of interest: The processes are distinct and should be kept separate.
California is far too large and diverse for any commissioner entirely to understand its many communities in the limited time available for redistricting. Moreover, the definition of "community" can become a tool to justify a plan after the fact, instead of guiding plan creation.
The Rose Institute has recommended and tested an approach to defining communities called "units of representation." first used in local redistrictings in California and Arizona, the approach involves local officials excluded from past redistrictings.
Under this approach, each mayor and county supervisor would appoint a representative to a county committee that would divide the county into community-based "unites of representation." The redistricting authority would be required to use these locally defined communities as the building blocks for its plan.
In addition to the important and complex requirements of unifying communities and selecting a measure of competitiveness, there are other, relatively straightforward criteria to guide redistricting: equal populations in each district, undivided counties and cities, compact and contiguous districts and the creation of state Senate and Board of Equalization districts by grouping state Assembly districts.
* The second ingredient for effective reform is the selection of trustworthy persons to draw the lines. The states that have implemented redistricting reforms have tried various approaches to this selection: bipartisan commissions with an 'independent' chairman; bipartisan commissions with super-majority requirements for plan adoption; and panels of retired judges.
Any commission will come under enormous political pressures, for most incumbents will fight desperately against the creation of competitive districts. This summer the Rose Institute will complete a study showing which type of redistricting commission was best able in 2001 to revisit incumbent and party pressure. any commission, however, is preferable to redistricting by self-interested legislators.
Include the public
* The third ingredient for reform is public participation. There are two components to public participation: input and information. "Public input" means the commission should be required to hold public hearings in every region of the state, both to gather ideas before drafting its districting plans and to generate feedback after releasing its draft plans. Any significant change to a proposed plan should required additional public hearings on the change. There should be no last-minute surprise plans adopted.
"Public information" means all draft and significantly revised districting plans must be distributed with sufficient time for analysis prior to public hearings -- at least 15 to 30 days.
Of course, federal laws including the Voting Rights Act and equal population requirements must be obeyed. reformers should also consider giving protections to groups victimized by past discrimination that go beyond those of the Federal Votings Rights Act. Once such option would be to apply statewide the Voting Rights Act's Section 5 protections against retrogression (currently only four California counties are subject to that portion of the Voting Rights Act).
There are two additional reform ideas that I would not consider requirements, but that certainly add a bit of spice. One is to hold a statewide vote on any new districts. Given the limited time between the census and the next election, the new districts would have to be used for the immediate election (for example, in 2012), but the voters could decide whether those districts would remain or be redrawn for 2014.
The other possible idea is to give the legislature a set number of days to hold public hearings and develop the initial plan using the strict criteria described above. The commission would use the Legislature's plan as its own draft plan, and, following its own public hearings, the commission could endorse the legislative plan, modify it or reject it entirely and draw its own plan.
Even a partial mix of these ingredients will improve on the incumbent-protection plan in California today. The recall election clearly represented a call for change, but California has yet to discover if the recall is a one-time uprising or the start of a permanent revolution for California governance.
The Voter choice initiative already on the ballot in November is a first step toward lasting change. Effective redistricting reform would be a powerful second step toward the creation of competitive elections and a legislature that better represents California's voters.
We've used much ink on these pages in the past several years writing on the evils of redistricting, the cynical power play of 2000 that has stifled political competition and virtually guaranteed that incumbent lawmakers would be reelected. Now, finally, state lawmakers have a chance to do something about it. But will they?
When party leaders carved up political districts in ways that entirely benefited themselves, it helped solidify a feeling among many Californians that their political representatives cared more about their own power than they did about voters and good public policy. Both parties were equally guilty. Redistricting has been one of the key reasons that voters have become so disenfranchised with the Legislature, which had a dismal 21 percent approval rating at last count.
On Tuesday the Legislature has a chance to change course, with the potential to restore some of that lost trust and confidence. A bill by Long Beach Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, which would put the task of redistricting into the hands of an independent commission instead of politicians, faces its first hearing, by the Assembly Elections Committee.
Approval is something of a long shot, but we sincerely hope that committee members will surprise us and push the bill forward. And we tip our hat to Lowenthal for his efforts to do right by voters and bring some fairness back to the political process.
The bill, ACA 19, would create an independent commission to establish political districts. A panel of retired judges would oversee the selection of the independent, bipartisan commission that would map out the districts by following logical "community of interest" boundaries. Lowenthal's bill is modeled after Arizona's successful independent redistricting.
The key question, going into Tuesday's hearing, is whether lawmakers will do something that has the potential to reduce their party's influence. We encourage them to think about the issue in the long- term: They can take action now, or face a voter backlash that would be far more powerful.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has shown that the threat of voter initiative can be a powerful tool to break up the partisan logjams in the Legislature. But ballot measures should be the exception rather than the rule.
Lowenthal's bill deserves approval simply because it's the right thing to do. But if lawmakers need another, more self-interested reason, they should do it because it would give them a tremendous boost in the eyes of voters.
One way or another, redistricting powers will eventually be removed from the hands of the Legislature. Whether the transfer is voluntary or forceful will be entirely up to lawmakers. We hope they'll choose the peaceful transition, starting Tuesday.
As elections approach and politicians jockey for the lead in their districts -- whether county supervisor, state legislative, or congressional-- some Central Coast residents are baffled as to where the district lines are drawn -- and who represents them.
Much of the confusion stems from the redrawing of district borders in 2001, which the California Legislature undertook after the 2000 U.S. Census. But far from merely an exercise in map-making, redistricting has dramatic political implications.
"To a great extent, it determines who will win an election prior to election day," said Paul Ryan, attorney at the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
"It's to ensure that the Supreme Court standard of one person, one vote is adhered to," Ryan said. "It's typically a very politicized process."
State legislatures draw new boundary lines every 10 years, after the census is released, "to take into effect shifts in population that occur over time," Ryan said. The California Constitution and federal court cases form the basis for redistricting criteria -- including population, racial make-up and partisan implications.
Assembly members Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Beth Rogers, R-Camarillo, say that new boundaries in their districts disenfranchise voters and make it impossible for them to win.
"The (19th) District was carved to create a seat that Sen. McClintock, the right-wing incumbent, could win. Therefore, I will not be running (against him in 2004)," Jackson said in a statement.
Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, was elected to the 19th District in 2000, when it encompassed the Northwest corner of Los Angeles County as well as portions of Ventura County. After redistricting, the 19th District now stretches from Orcutt to Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County. The first election with those new boundaries will be in 2004.
In the 2002 statewide election, registered voters in the new 19th Senate District were 36.12 percent Democrat and 42.78 percent Republican -- making Jackson's election unlikely.
But before redistricting, both McClintock's 19th Senate District seat and the 15th Senate District, currently represented by Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, were encompassed in the 18th District.
That region was highly competitive in 2000, with 39.99
percent Democrats and 38.84 Republicans -- a spread of just 1.15
Last year, Rogers ran unsuccessfully to defeat Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who represents the 23rd Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from the upper boundary of San Luis Obispo County to Port Hueneme in Ventura County.
In the 2000 presidential election before redistricting occurred, the 23rd Congressional District was fairly evenly split, with 40.86 percent of voters registered as Democrat, 39.86 percent Republican. It was also much neater geographically -- encompassing nearly all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, rather than the long, winding coastal region it now covers.
But in the 2002 statewide election in which Rogers challenged Capps, 44.35 percent of registered voters in the 23rd Congressional District were Democrats, while only 32.96 percent were Republicans -- a margin of 11.39 compared to the 0.82 pre-redistricting spread in 2000.
According to the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington D.C., and the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, similar redistricting issues are occurring across the nation.
"A lot of people are wringing their hands at how bad it is now," said Rob Richie, executive director of the D.C. group. "It's the worst incumbent protection dynamic we've probably seen right now."
Activist Ted Costa, who started the campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis, is now circulating a petition to change how lawmakers draw new district boundaries. Instead of the state legislature, retired judges chosen by a state judicial body would decide. If enough signatures are gathered, the measure would qualify for a vote in the March 2004 election.
Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger has also suggested independent judges handle redistricting.
But Richie and Ryan think that neither of those solutions will solve the problem.
"When you consider that judges are partisan, and are elected as part of a partisan process ... the perception that judges are less partial, I don't know that it really holds up," Ryan said. "When the appointments are made by elected officials, how much insulation do you get from the partisan process?"
Reform is a challenge simply because redistricting is so
complex, Chesin said. "It's very difficult to get the voters to grasp the
nuances of redistricting."
Ted Costa said the proposed ballot initiative emphasizes compact districts that follow city and county lines.
"Because of the bipartisan gerrymandering four years ago, we no longer have free elections in the state of California," said Costa, an anti-tax activist. "Everything is predetermined in the primary."
Political observers say districts created by the Legislature often protect incumbents at the extreme ends of the political spectrum.
Under Costa's proposal, the California Judicial Council would pick three retired judges from a list submitted by legislative leaders to draw districts for legislative and congressional seats. Their plan would require approval from the Legislature, governor and voters.
Costa's proposal for the ballot initiative was submitted Thursday to the state attorney general's office. Upon approval, proponents will have 150 days to collect at least 598,105 signatures to get it on the November 2004 ballot.
If voters approve the initiative, districts would be redrawn before the 2006 election, and then again after each decennial U.S. census, Costa said.
Political analysts said the redistricting proposal might be harder to sell than the recall.
"We have received a very strong message from the recall that voters are upset. Whether that extends to redistricting remains to be seen," said Darry Sragrow, a Democratic political consultant.
Accusations of gerrymandering have been heard around the country for years. Texas Democrats unsuccessfully boycotted their Legislature twice this year to block a quorum and kill Republican-led redistricting plans.
SACRAMENTO - Emboldened by the success of his recall initiative, anti-tax crusader Ted Costa said last week he plans to go back to the voters with a ballot measure to break incumbents' grip on California's Legislature and congressional delegation.
Proponents of redrawing the state's political map have tried before to overhaul the redistricting process, which is controlled by the Legislature and in 2001 protected its Democratic majority and incumbent Republicans.
But Costa, a Republican, is hoping for a boost from Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, who campaigned to remove reapportionment from the whim of the Legislature and put it into the hands of a panel of retired judges.
"If I were in this business, I would strike right now," said Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State. "This was a political earthquake and people are upset with the status quo."
The move could be part of a broader Republican desire to capitalize on the recall victory. Once the election results are officially tallied, many Democrats in the Legislature may find themselves representing regions of the state that voted heavily in favor of the recall and to elect Schwarzenegger.
Costa, the father of the petition drive to oust Gov. Gray Davis, is collaborating with incoming Republican Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, to put an initiative on the ballot in November 2004.
Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the planned initiative, but included "fair redistricting" in his government reform package unveiled last month in Sacramento.
The problem, according to proponents, is that general elections have largely become irrelevant because the majority of legislative and Congressional districts were designed to favor either Democrats or Republicans. The result is the type of partisan gridlock that led to a monthlong budget stalemate this year.
"The fate of elections is decided when the party bosses get together," Costa said. "We thought it would be nice if the people had something to say about it."
But Senate President pro tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, said initiative backers were motivated by "Republican partisan purposes" rather than "good government."
In Sacramento, Democrats hold a 48 to 32 majority in the Assembly and a 25 to 15 advantage in the Senate. Out of 120 seats, fewer than 10 are considered competitive districts.
University of San Francisco Law School Professor Paul McKaskle was chief counsel to a special panel of judges assigned to redraw district boundaries after reapportionment disputes in the Legislature in 1973 and 1991.
He described the 2001 reapportionment plan as a Faustian bargain worked out among the Democratic and Republican leadership. "We'll protect our guys and you protect your guys," he said.
The details of Costa's 2004 initiative are still under discussion, but in general, he said it would take the redistricting process out of the hands of party leaders. Instead, all legislators and outside interest groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, would be invited to submit redistricting plans to a panel of retired judges appointed by a court yet to be determined. The judges would choose the best plan based on a new set of guidelines designed to discourage gerrymandering.
Nunes insisted that the effort was not about "what party gets what. It's about people's votes really counting."
But he acknowledged that "there would be enough seats in play that Republicans could have close to a chance of having a majority in both houses."
Still, history has shown that the involvement of the courts doesn't always lead to more balanced representation. During redistricting fights in 1973 and 1991, Democrats came out ahead even though the lines were drawn by a panel appointed by the state Supreme Court.
Hodson, who oversaw the Senate redistricting plan in 1991, said that Republicans "ended up the end of the decade worse off than at the beginning."
Alameda Times Star
Redistricting plays a part in budget crisis
By Frank del Olmo
July 14, 2003
LAST YEAR I took some flak for accusing several Latinos in the California Legislature of making a deal with the devil. I could gloat now that I've been proved right by the budgetary chaos and ideological extremism that dominate politics in Sacramento, but I won't. The spectacle is just too sad -- and is spreading to other states. The "devil" I referred to was a sharp political consultant named Michael Berman, the younger brother of Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles. Michael Berman is an expert in the science of political redistricting, which is why he was paid a lot of money in 2001 by incumbent Democrats and Republicans. They asked him to use population data from the 2000 census to draw new district lines for the Legislature and California's 53-member congressional delegation, being especially careful to give incumbents safe districts where they could easily be re-elected.
Michael Berman did his job, but got carried away in trying to protect his big brother from the possibility of a Latino competitor for his San Fernando Valley district. The Bermans' plan shifted thousands of Latino voters into the adjoining district of Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman. It was an outrageous gerrymander that generated a lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Unfortunately, MALDEF's lawsuit was dismissed by a panel of federal judges who ruled, in effect, that since Latinos had recently made significant political progress in California, any voting-rights discrimination that resulted from the Berman gerrymander was legally tolerable. They also noted that most Latinos in the Legislature had voted for the Bermans' reapportionment plan. Indeed, with three honorable exceptions, Latino incumbents in Sacramento had gone along with their colleagues in approving the Bermans' cynical handiwork.
Last week, despite a constitutional deadline and a $38 billion budget shortfall that has earned California the lowest credit rating of all 50 states, the Legislature could not agree on a budget. The gridlock resulted because Democrats refused to abide any more spending cuts and Republicans would not approve even modest tax increases.
Normally a budgetary crisis like this calls forth some pragmatic bipartisan solutions. Because redistricting gave virtually every member of the Legislature such a safe district, however, there is no need for anybody to compromise.
Of course, in a highly charged and heavily publicized political standoff like this, even "safe" districts can be problematic for incumbents. After a while they make it hard for politicians to act like statesmen or stateswomen. Any Democrat who ponders voting for spending cuts could be challenged by a more liberal Democrat in the next primary election; any Republican who votes to raise taxes could face a conservative backlash from anti-tax advocates.
Such is the political mischief that results when incumbents are allowed to oversee the reapportionment of their own districts. Similar mischief is afoot in Texas, where the GOP controls the Legislature and statewide offices, just as the Democrats predominate in California.
Not content with running the Lone Star state, Texas Republicans have been trying to find a way to reapportion the state's congressional districts to give the GOP a bigger edge than the current 17-15 split in favor of Democrats. The GOP's heavy-handed attempts at reapportionment got a few laughs from late-night comedians when Democrats in May fled Austin en masse for a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma to deprive Republicans of a quorum.
But the issue of who reapportions Texas, and how, is no more a laughing matter than California's budget crisis is. And anyone concerned with the political future of the growing Latino population in both states, not to mention Colorado and Arizona, where similar reapportionment standoffs are looming, should be worried, too.
There are many reasons for the political gridlock in Sacramento, to be sure, but don't underestimate the effect of the secret redistricting deal both parties in the Legislature made. Now the devil is getting his due in Sacramento, and a lot sooner than either Democrats or Republicans probably expected.
Frank del Olmo is a Los Angeles Times associate editor and columnist.
Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County -- In this land of endless cul-de-sacs and impeccably manicured lawns, residents have a nearly unanimous message for their neighbor, state Sen. Jim Brulte, who happens to be the most powerful Republican serving in California government.
"I say, 'Go, Jim Go,' " proclaims 42-year-old Lance Douglas, an insurance agent and self-described "Rush Limbaugh Republican" whose backyard is adjacent to Brulte's.
The Senate minority leader pledged two weeks ago to end the political life of any Republican lawmaker who supports tax increases as a way to fix the state's huge deficit. The message stalled already-sputtering negotiations, Democrats complain, leading to the dismal outlook that now hangs over Sacramento.
Brulte's threat has been met with resounding cheers from much of his Republican-dominated district in the Inland Empire. It also illustrates two things crucial to understanding the current budget war.
Despite a Democratic governor and Democratic dominance in the Legislature, Brulte may be the most important player in the resolution of California's budget crisis. Eight Republican votes in the Legislature are needed to adopt a budget, and it looks as though most won't budge until Brulte says so.
And the current paralysis over the budget is partially the result of increasing partisanship wrought by newly drawn political districts in California, where lawmakers increasingly represent one-sided districts like Brulte's. What most Democrats and Republicans with one eye trained on the next election fear most is the appearance of wavering from their party's dogma.
"There's not much danger in losing a general election, so the only threat is from your own party," noted Bruce Cain, a UC Berkeley political scientist who wrote more than a year ago that the state's redrawn political maps would lead to more stalemates on issues like the budget. "If you're a Republican, the worst thing you could do is anger local conservative groups and the anti- tax people."
San Bernardino County is the largest county in square miles in the United States, stretching from Los Angeles County to California's borders with Nevada and Arizona. The western part of the county -- Brulte's political base -- is mostly miles and miles of Spanish-style houses with red-tile roofs. The homes match the strip malls.
Much like the Central Valley's relationship to the Bay Area in Northern California, the San Bernardino area is filling up with metropolitan refugees willing to trade the appeal of cheaper real estate for a long commute into Los Angeles or Orange County.
"We're suburban California," said Brulte about his district.
The county is not in most California tourism books -- area boosters are quick to comment on how close it is to everywhere else, from beaches to Los Angeles to Palm Springs. There seems to be a bit of a regional self-esteem problem. Residents grouse that the McDonald's Corp. doesn't give enough credit to San Bernardino as the birthplace of the fast-food empire. A county chamber of commerce official pleaded with a visiting reporter not to mention the smog that sometimes chokes the area and hinders views of nearby mountain ranges.
Overall, the region is fairly evenly divided among registered Republicans and Democrats.
BAY AREA'S OPPOSITE NUMBER
But Brulte's district has been carved out as a safe Republican seat, the polar opposite of nearly every Bay Area district. Democrats have yet to offer a candidate for next year's race to replace Brulte, who is barred from running again by term limits. No one can seem to remember who ran against him in 2000. (It was Democrat Mike Rayburn, whom Brulte beat by taking 59 percent of the vote.)
Anti-tax sentiment is an anthem here.
"The answer is to cut spending," said 71-year-old Joann Smalling, as she sat outside with her husband Jerry after an afternoon of yard work around their Rancho Cucamonga home.
Smalling swears she's not a die-hard Republican, but she can't remember voting for any Democrat since Harry Truman.
Jerry Smalling worked for more than 20 years at Chino State Prison, and he believes there's plenty of inefficiencies to trim in state government without having to enact Democratic proposals to raise taxes.
There are people in Brulte's district who would argue with the Smallings' point of view, but not many.
"Brulte is taking the approach that if you don't give them the money, they can't waste it," said Denny Shorett, president and CEO of a printing company and a contributor to past Brulte campaigns.
Brulte, 47, is a career politician who worked for the Republican National Committee when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. He also worked for the first President Bush, and the biography his staffers hand out quotes a California newspaper noting Brulte is the current president's "main man in the state."
'BIG JIM' SLIMMER THESE DAYS
No Brulte biography is complete without mentioning that the 6-foot-4 senator once weighed more than 350 pounds, but "Big Jim," as neighbors called him, has dropped 100 pounds in the past few years.
He is an ideological conservative, but he rarely gives fiery speeches, and he is quick to say that he loves and respects Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, his political opposite.
In an interview in Sacramento, Brulte said that the line in the sand he drew two weeks ago for his party was not meant to be an ominous threat.
"Every special interest in California has lawyers and lobbyists to articulate their position and put resources into districts to get what they want," he said. "The result is, as a state, we're broke. . . . I wanted every Republican in that room to know that I was going to stand for the taxpayers."
But Brulte went as far as to present potential ads that might be run against Republicans next year who support new taxes.
"There is no question Sen. Brulte's comments have had an effect on people," Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge, said last week.
Brulte has substantial clout in part because, as party leader, he helps steer campaign cash to other Republicans. He's also got more than $1 million in the bank. Anyone he doesn't like may run into fund-raising trouble next year.
That's particularly meaningful in many California districts where primary battles between members of the same party will most likely decide who wins office, says Cain.
FEW COMPETITIVE RACES
The redistricting deal that Democratic and Republican lawmakers cut last year created dozens of districts that are overwhelmingly tilted toward one party. Only about six out of 80 races for Assembly and four out of 20 races for Senate will be competitive next November, according to Allan Hoffenblum, editor of the California Target Book, a publication that tracks political races.
That allows party leaders to replace incumbents they don't like or pick favorites in primaries without having to worry too much about losing the general election, Hoffenblum said.
"He (Brulte) certainly wouldn't do anything to change a Republican seat to a Democratic seat," Hoffenblum said. "But he can take out pro-tax Republicans and replace them with anti-tax Republicans in the primary. It's something he couldn't do if the seats weren't so safe (for the party.)"
Despite the way some Democrats talk, Brulte isn't the sole reason for the budget stalemate. There are all kind of reasons, including the overwhelming size of the deficit and an effort to oust Davis that is gaining traction and likely causing the governor to weigh political factors as he contemplates a budge deal.
And Brulte's promise to descend on districts of Republicans who support new taxes would be an important development in any decade. But it's more effective because of redistricting, experts say.
That's just fine for Brulte's constituents.
"I think Brulte's on to something," Joann Smalling said. "I hope he keeps their feet to the fire."
Hispanic voters, a cornerstone of Californiaís Democratic coalition, are increasingly challenging liberal Jewish incumbents to turn over the reins and make way for a new generation of leaders.
The rift pits one of the California Democratic Partyís fastest-growing groups against one of their most influential and threatens party unity in that state and, possibly, in Texas, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere, Democratic Party officials say.
The split, as they see it, stems from an unfortunate confluence of events.
First, in the 1990s, term limits were imposed on elected officials in the state Assembly and Senate. Many state legislators forced out by those limits decided to seek higher office.
Then, in 2001, the state Legislature redrew Californiaís 53 congressional districts. The new political map channeled many Hispanic voters into districts represented by Jewish officeholders.
In the view of some Democratic insiders, the problem was further compounded by the large number of Jewish members of Congress from Southern California districts. Seven of the 17 Democrats from the Los Angeles area to the Mexican border are Jewish, seven are Hispanic and three are African-American.
ìI can see Republicans using the accident, as it were, of many Jewish congresspeople to create a wedge issue against the Democrats,î said Rep. Bob Filner, whose newly drawn 51st District includes 340,000 Latinos, 53 percent of the electorate. ìThat is,î the Jewish Democrat continued, ìto try to get Hispanic support by claiming thereís a Jewish conspiracy or something against them.î
A California Republican, one of 20 in the stateís congressional delegation, buttressed Filnerís contention.
ìIn the Democratic Party you have the potential for fratricide, because people are starting to kill each other off ó Jewish liberals and black liberals versus the immigrant Hispanics,î said the member, who declined to be identified by name.
Referring to such longtime Jewish incumbents as Reps. Howard Berman and Henry Waxman, the Republican member added: ìTheyíre keeping themselves and their allies in power. All of them were Ö [given] districts to make sure they were not replaced by someone whose name is Hernandez.î
Raoul Contreras, a San Diego-based GOP political consultant and columnist, added that poor Mexicans who have recently immigrated to California often harbor anti-Semitic feelings that stem from their antipathy toward wealthy Jewish Mexican businessmen.
Further heightening Hispanic suspicions of a Jewish conspiracy, both Republicans and Democrats said, is the fact that Democratic consultant Michael Berman, brother of Howard Berman, oversaw the highly contentious redistricting plan.
Those suspicions were reflected in a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The suit, thrown out last June by a three-judge federal panel, argued that the redistricting plan diluted Hispanic strength to protect Democratic incumbents from Hispanic challengers.
Berman, an 11-term congressman whose district includes much of the San Fernando Valley, called talk of a conspiracy ìnonsense.î Some Democrats said the redistricting entailed shifting thousands of Latinos from Bermanís 28th District next door, to Rep. Brad Shermanís 27th.
Democrats pointed out that Sherman, like Berman, is a Jewish Democrat but, unlike Berman, a relative newcomer, in only his fourth term. That suggests redistricting wasnít so much part of a ìJewish plot,î they said, as a matter of entrenched incumbents throwing their weight around. ìShermanís not part of that West L.A. power structure,î said Contreras, whose mother, Sarah Lowery, 77, sits on the state executive committee of the Democratic Party.
Berman acknowledged that friction persists between the Jewish and Hispanic communities. But, he said, ìI donít think theyíre as serious as some might think, as some might promote.î
The congressman portrayed the 2001 redistricting as an effort to secure Democratic seats in a Republican-controlled Congress and not to elevate one religious or ethnic group over another.
He said that when redistricting took place, several Democratic seats were considered vulnerable, including those held by Jewish Reps. Jane Harman, Susan Davis and Sherman, as well as non-Jewish Reps. Mike Thompson, Ellen Tauscher, Michael Honda, Calvin Dooley and Lois Capps.
Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, whose 47th District is in GOP-dominated Orange County, between Los Angeles and San Diego, suggested that Hispanic-Jewish tensions had been overstated, adding that many Jewish Democrats had been good friends to Latinos.
ìMr. Berman has been great on the issue of immigrants and the issue of collective bargaining and the issue of healthcare,î she said. ìDo you throw away a friend of 30 years simply because heís not Hispanic? My answer would be no.î
But, as some Democrats said privately, tension between Hispanics and Jews has been festering for years ó or, at least, since 1998, when Latino Richard Alarcon narrowly defeated Jewish former Assembly leader Richard Katz in what was widely reported to have been a particularly ugly contest in the state Senateís 20th District, also in the San Fernando Valley.
After months of sometimes heated debate, a divided Oakland City Council adopted new district lines Tuesday night that balance major population growth in the city's eastern half, largely driven by Latino immigrants.
While the once-a-decade redistricting will mean new council representatives for residents in pockets throughout the city, the political battle focused on two major areas: Network Associates Coliseum and the Glenview neighborhood in the city's lower hills.
New Councilwoman Desley Brooks was unsuccessful in her bid to wrest the Coliseum from Councilman Larry Reid to provide an "economic engine" for central East Oakland's District 6.
But despite divided neighborhood opinion, Council President Ignacio De La Fuente gained the upper-middle-class Glenview area, along Park Boulevard above Interstate 580, to add economic diversity to the flatlands neighborhoods of Fruitvale's District 5.
Cities are required to redraw council districts every 10 years, following the census, to give them equal populations and to give equal power to each resident's vote. Oakland's target was 57,069 residents per district.
From 1990 to 2000, Oakland's population grew 7 percent to a historic high of 399,484. That growth was disproportionately centered in District 5 and District 7 in East Oakland, with each increasing nearly 15 percent.
Much of that increase was due to a growing Latino population, which increased 69 percent citywide.
District 7's population was 67 percent black and 12.7 percent Hispanic in the 1990 census, but by 2000 it was 55 percent black and nearly 33 percent Hispanic. The district now has the largest Hispanic population outside Fruitvale, where it increased from 37 to 47 percent.
Citywide, the Asian population also grew, by 14 percent, while the number of white and African American residents declined.
The only district that lost population was North Oakland's District 1, which declined 0.2 percent, in part still suffering a population loss from the 1991 East Bay hills fire, which damaged or destroyed more than 3,000 dwellings.
While race was center stage in the redistricting battle 10 years ago, with a bruising fight to create an "Asian district" in District 2, Grand Lake- Chinatown, it played little role in this year's discussions, which focused on economics and neighborhood boundaries.
Brooks, who began representing District 6 in January, wanted the Coliseum returned to her district, where it had been before the 1990 redistricting.
"The reality is, District 6 does not have an economic engine. That is simply not fair," she said.
But residents of Reid's District 7 fought to keep the Coliseum, where transit and housing developments are planned.
"Councilmember Reid is the only one who took any interest in our neighborhood," said resident Sylvester Grisby.
The other major area of contention was the Glenview neighborhood, which was split down the middle of its Park Boulevard business district in 1990.
Some residents wanted the neighborhood unified, proposed under a plan by Reid and De La Fuente to move the area into De La Fuente's district, while others said they wanted to remain in the Montclair-Laurel district, District 4, represented by Jean Quan.
"A district that has neighborhoods with conflicting needs runs the risk of sacrificing the needs of one neighborhood for the sake of another," said Bill Engelhardt.
But Susan Thomas argued for uniting Glenview.
"Right now, the heart of our district is Park Boulevard, and it's split completely in two. I believe a split district dilutes our vote and our voice," she said last week.
While Quan, who now shares the neighborhood with Councilman Danny Wan, supported giving it to De La Fuente's district, she said the line was moved too far, splitting the adjacent Dimond neighborhood.
Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who represents West Oakland and the Adams Point neighborhood near Lake Merritt, pointed out that the average income in her district remains half that of residents in District 4.
Reid and De La Fuente's plan was approved 5-3, with Brooks, Quan and Nadel voting against.
Other changes including giving Nadel's district additional streets around the lake. Jane Brunner, whose District 1 needed more residents, will gain the Thornhill neighborhood near Montclair in the Oakland hills and an area near MacArthur BART.
The adopted map can be found on the city's Web site at www.oaklandnet.com/government/redistricting/data/rdm/reid_delafuenteM.pdf
E-mail Janine DeFao at [email protected] .
SAN DIEGO ---- Did a series of private conversations and actions by four county supervisors and their chiefs of staff violate the state open meeting laws by keeping the county's redistricting map away from the public and the committee that was supposed to draw the map?
That's the question before a San Diego Superior Court judge, as a trial in a lawsuit brought by a University of California-San Diego professor began Monday with opening arguments.
Lawyers for the law professor, Anthony C. Valladolid, say that office conferences, e-mails and conversations they say constitute "serial" meetings with the county staff who kept the maps did violate the open meetings law, leaving Latinos and African Americans without a single majority district in a county where Latinos make up more than a third of the population.
Those meetings also were allegedly used to leave the fifth supervisor, Pam Slater, with an H-shaped district that makes little sense on a map. Slater is the only supervisor not being sued, apparently because she was left out of the loop while the map was being redrawn.
County officials, and the county lawyers who represent them, say the conversations, e-mails and conferences do not violate the Brown Act, which mandates that government meetings remain open to the public except under specific, limited circumstances.
Serial meetings are where one person goes from one supervisor's office to another to relay information and form consensus.
The lawyers argued Monday that there were just three conversations between pairs of supervisors ---- not enough to make a quorum of three of five supervisors, and that the conversations were about three separate topics.
Governments are required to redraw elected officials' districts every 10 years with the release of new population data gathered by the U. S. Census. Supervisors set up a committee of citizens who held 14 public meetings and drew a series of maps of proposed new districts. But, at the July meeting where the final map was approved, Supervisor Bill Horn presented a new map that was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Slater voting against it.
Horn's map eventually incorporated suggestions by supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox that also benefited them. Horn shifted Escondido from his district, which included Carlsbad, Oceanside and most inland North County areas north of the Carlsbad-Encinitas border, to Slater's district. He instead took the unincorporated areas including Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, creating two oddly shaped districts.
Critics accused Horn of dumping Escondido because of its large Latino population and its cadre of up-and-coming politicians who are willing to challenge him, including past supervisorial candidate Jerry Harmon. But Horn responded that he was trying to keep the population figures for the two districts close to the correct number while keeping cities from being split between districts.
Slater has remained mum on the change in her district, except to testify in deposition that she felt the supervisors' final map was a done deal before it was presented at the July meeting. Critics also accused Roberts and Cox of dividing up central San Diego to keep from having a Latino-African American majority in any one district, accusations Cox and Roberts have denied.
The map obtained final approval in August 2001, and the lawsuit that pits Valladolid, described by his attorney as a Latino activist, against the four supervisors was filed in the fall of 2001. After more than a year of discovery that included depositions of the supervisors, their chiefs of staff and the top officials in the Chief Administrative Office, as well as extensive review of computer and computer mapping records, the trial began Monday in Judge Kevin Enright's courtroom. It is expected to continue until late next week, when it will be submitted to the judge.
All five supervisors will be called to testify, as will the county's top attorney, John Sansone, Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard, and a host of computer, census and computer-mapping experts, according to witness lists provided in court documents.
Brown Act expert Terry Franke also is expected to testify for the plaintiff on how serial meetings are a violation of the Act.
Although both sides mostly agree on the facts of the case ---- the meetings, e-mails and closed sessions where such issues were discussed ---- each side interprets those actions differently.
"All of this is taking place behind closed doors in which the public had no opportunity to participate," Michael Aguirre, the plaintiff's attorney, said Monday. "Part of what we are going to show is there was an intentional effort to keep the public from knowing (the supervisors) were talking about redistricting plans.
"What the public is being told is the redistricting committee is drawing the maps; the public isn't told about what's taking place behind closed doors," Aguirre added.
County lawyers say all the actions were proper and never violated the Brown Act.
"The Brown Act does not prohibit one-on-one discussion between legislators on separate topics, otherwise there would be no co-sponsored legislations," said senior deputy county counsel William Pettingill. "The supervisors never collectively deliberated over the redistricting information they had every right to receive and ... every element of the final plan ... was discussed at a public hearing."
All five county supervisors are expected to take the witness stand in the next two weeks to testify about private talks that preceded their voting 4-1 to approve new boundaries for their political districts.
The redistricting plan was criticized when it was adopted in July 2001 for shoring up Supervisor Bill Horn's political base at the expense of Supervisor Pam Slater's and for failing to create a district that could lead to the election of a minority supervisor.
Those furors eventually quieted, but the plan spurred a lawsuit, a round of depositions and now a civil trial before a Superior Court judge.
The suit alleges that the plan grew out of secret meetings among four board members ñ Horn, Greg Cox, Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts ñ who wanted to ensure their hold on their seats.
Mike Aguirre, the local attorney arguing the lawsuit, also contends the supervisors conducted serial meetings designed to skirt the state's open meeting law and destroyed maps and documents that could be evidence against them.
At the time, a citizens advisory committee the supervisors appointed was holding more than a dozen public hearings and recommending its own reapportionment plan. Critics later accused supervisors of ignoring most of that committee's work.
Horn and Roberts deny there was wrongdoing.
Aguirre has filed "a frivolous lawsuit," Horn said.
Roberts said the case is without merit.
"This is like an irritant," Roberts said.
Cox, Jacob and Slater declined to comment on the case.
County attorneys contend the allegations are baseless. They said supervisors acted within the guidelines of state law that allow two of the five elected officials to meet and talk privately about county business.
Independent experts said politicians routinely approve redistricting plans that protect their seats, but lawsuits to overturn such plans rarely win.
Aguirre has a mixed record on lawsuits filed against local governments.
A lawsuit he filed against the city of San Diego in 1990 on behalf of the Chicano Federation of San Diego County led to changes that ensured Latinos would be a majority of voters in one City Council district. Aguirre lost a similar lawsuit against the county in 1992.
This time, Aguirre hopes to get an independent redistricting process at the county, one that would introduce diversity to what is now an all-white, all Republican Board of Supervisors.
"The stakes are enormously high," Aguirre said.
Redistricting happens every 10 years, after the federal census is completed. Under state law and the terms of its own charter, the county is required after each census to adjust the boundaries of the five supervisorial districts to equalize population among them.
Plan angers residents
The controversy over the county plan centered on two issues.
One was on the last-minute changes Horn proposed.
Those changes moved the wealthy communities of Fairbanks Ranch and Rancho Santa Fe into Horn's District 5 and switched Escondido to District 3, represented by Slater.
That angered residents from Escondido and other North County communities, who said Horn was seeking wealthier, whiter communities that would provide him more political support.
In addition, a coalition of Latino and African-American leaders complained that supervisors ignored their proposal for a district with a super majority of minority voters. Their district, they said, would have provided the best chance to have a minority elected to the all-white Board of Supervisors.
Eventually, supervisors approved the plan, with Slater opposed.
In October 2001, the lawsuit was filed against the county on behalf of Chula Vista resident Anthony Valladolid, a lawyer who directs the student legal services program at the University of California San Diego and who has represented undocumented immigrants.
The lawsuit has been winding its way through the legal system since then, and Horn and Roberts have won re-elections to third terms using the new districts.
Those election results would not be affected if the redistricting plan were thrown out in court.
It's not a jury trial. San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright will hear the case in Department 62 in the downtown Hall of Justice.
The trial, expected to last two weeks, may attract an audience. The Chicano Federation recently sent mass e-mails urging community members to pack the courtroom.
Aguirre said he will focus on evidence, including supervisors' calendars and appointment books, to show supervisors and other officials met privately to craft the new districts.
Depositions of supervisors and county staff showed nonpublic meetings occurred to discuss redistricting before and during the process.
For example, Roberts met with Cox and his chief of staff, Pam O'Neill, in April 2001, three months before supervisors approved the redistricting plan.
Diane Bardsley, an attorney for the county, said such meetings are allowed by the state Brown Act, which governs how public agencies conduct meetings. As long as a majority of the board, or three out of the five, do not meet, then individual supervisors can discuss county business privately.
Supervisors cannot engage in serial meetings, defined by the law as a series of communications among less than a quorum of a body but which as a whole involves a board majority.
Bardsley acknowledges meetings took place.
"They don't add up to an agreement on the plan," she said.
"In order to make a Brown Act violation, he's got to connect all these conversations together to show you they came to an agreement on the plan."
Aguirre will try to show that supervisors were working behind the scenes on their own redistricting plan. For example, the depositions show that Alex Martinez, a top county administrator overseeing the redistricting process, talked to Horn and Roberts about proposed changes to maps.
Bardsley said there is nothing wrong with such meetings.
"If a board member wants to prepare an agenda item, and they need assistance, they can get that kind of information from staff," she said.
Aguirre also will focus on deposition statements from supervisors and others that they threw away maps and other documents after the plan was approved, even though they were warned a lawsuit probably would be filed against the county.
Bardsley said the documents that were thrown away were copies of original materials that remain on file. Supervisors and officials are not required to hold onto every scrap of paper on an issue, she said.
Aguirre said he has retained Brown Act experts, including Terry Francke of the California First Amendment Coalition, to testify as to how supervisors and county officials technically violated the law. The San Diego Union-Tribune is a member of the coalition, which is a nonprofit group that helps people obtain government records.
He said he also plans to ask tough questions of the four supervisors who voted for the redistricting plan.
Aguirre also expects to call Slater, who in depositions said she believed a plan had been agreed on before the board's vote.
"I think she has been helpful in establishing the fact that there was a deal made before the others got to the meeting to support the plan," he said.
Difficult to win
Experts not connected to the case said Aguirre will have a difficult task.
"Generally speaking, the courts are very reluctant to jump into things like this," said Mark Monmonier, author of the book, "Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections."
David Greene, executive director and staff counsel of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, a nonprofit public-interest group, said Brown Act lawsuits are difficult to win unless there is proof, either through e-mails or other evidence, that secret discussions were held on the plan.
What would happen if the county loses?
Experts said the most likely scenario is the judge would force the county to redo the redistricting process or to retake votes on the plan.
"The judge can void the action taken . . . and they could meet openly and do it again," Greene said. "You can't force them to decide differently. You can force them to deliberate in public and decide."
Aguirre said he would seek to have the courts take over the redistricting process. He concedes that does not mean the supervisors would approve a different plan. But, he said, the process would be more open and supervisors would have to provide their justifications for approving the districts.
Bardsley said she believes the county will win the case and said Aguirre wants to turn the trial into an opportunity to make the county look bad.
Horn accused Aguirre of "using taxpayers to make his money."
Aguirre would be paid if he wins the case and the judge orders the county to pay attorney fees.
He said the case is not frivolous and he is not in it for the money.
"It really has to do with what happens in the next decade," Aguirre said. "It really has to do with the last bastion of concentrated political power."
Luis Monteagudo: (619) 542-4589; [email protected]
A veteran of battles over political redistricting, Alan Clayton has unveiled a politically explosive proposal for supervisorial districts as he pursues his legal challenge against the boundaries the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted in 2001.
His new plan would split the San Fernando Valley and erase longtime incumbent Zev Yaroslavsky's district, forcing him to run against incumbent Don Knabe on Knabe's home turf.
The proposal would create a new San Gabriel Valley seat in which Yaroslavsky, who lives in West Los Angeles, would be considered the incumbent.
A court could make the final decision on the remapping.
Clayton, director of equal opportunity employment for the 1,100-member Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association, said the new map could ultimately give voters a chance to elect two Latinos to the five-member Board of Supervisors.
It could also further shift the balance of power on the board from the current makeup - three Democrats and two Republicans - to three Democrats, one Republican and a swing seat that could go to either a Republican or a Democrat in a district along the coast, West Los Angeles and the west San Fernando Valley.
On Feb. 23, Clayton filed a 76-page administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Section, alleging the Board of Supervisors violated the federal Voting Rights Act in the district lines they drew last year, which generally left the boundaries as they have been for a decade.
"What we are claiming is they basically drew a district that packed Latinos into one district when there are basically two Latino communities that could have had their own separate, reasonably compact districts in different regions of Los Angeles County," Clayton said.
Clayton filed a 218-page complaint with the Justice Department in January 2002, after officials approved the Board of Supervisors-approved redistricting map.
Yaroslavsky was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment. Knabe declined to comment.
The new map shifts Yaroslavsky's District 3 to the San Gabriel Valley, including Pomona, Norwalk, Baldwin Park, El Monte, Whittier, Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, Rosemead, Montebello and Pico Rivera.
Knabe's District 4 would lose its San Gabriel Valley portion and pick up the entire coast plus West Los Angeles and the west San Fernando Valley. It would include Knabe's home in Cerritos.
District 5, which Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich represents, would remain relatively unchanged, encompassing the eastern San Fernando Valley, the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and the Republican foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley, but he would lose West Covina, Covina and San Gabriel.
District 1, which Supervisor Gloria Molina represents, would lose its San Gabriel Valley portion. She would pick up the cities of Downey, Paramount, Lynwood and Bellflower and more of the Hollywood and Wilshire area of Los Angeles.
District 2, which Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke represents in South Central Los Angeles, Inglewood and Compton areas, would experience the least change, but would pick up the northern part of Long Beach and Wilmington. She would lose Lynwood.
In 2001, the supervisors criticized Clayton's plan for taking too many Republicans out of Districts 4 and 5.
"This plan basically kept the partisan registration in both districts very close the current partisan registration," Clayton said.
Leo F. Estrada, an associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA, wrote in an attachment that Clayton's plan is a well-crafted map that used the most recent court guidelines for redistricting.
"The plan gives a very high priority to preserving cities, avoids packing minorities into a single district and keeps major geographic regions together," Estrada wrote. "This plan also endeavors to maintain the current partisan voter registration balance."
Estrada provided expert testimony in lawsuits filed over the 1981 redistricting, which was found to dilute Latino voting strength and violate the Voting Rights Act. After federal intervention then, a Latino district, centered in East Los Angeles, was created.
Troy Anderson can be reached at (818) 713-3706.
While California's budget deficit may be unprecedented in its dimensions, its political dynamics are equally daunting, as a flurry of activity in the Capitol on Tuesday underscored.The Democratic-dominated Assembly passed a preliminary budget package, responding to pleas from Democratic Gov. Gray Davis for a significant down payment on the deficit. But the package contained only a fraction of the spending reductions Davis sought, and it made even those cuts contingent on tripling the annual license fees on cars, which Davis didn't want.
The upshot was that within minutes of the Assembly's action, Davis told reporters that he would veto the measure, putting the entire budget situation "back to square one," in the words of both state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson. But even that assessment was not universal, because Davis insisted that "we've gone a long way beyond square one."
Davis offered a complex rationale for his forthcoming veto, consisting of both a desire not to irritate anti-tax Republicans whose votes he needs for a larger package of new taxes later in the year and a legal theory that the Assembly's car tax legislation could be rejected by the courts. And as if that was not confusing enough, Davis indicated that his administration might well raise the car tax by itself, which it is empowered to do, later.
This initial political showdown on the crisis -- whose exact dimensions are also in dispute -- produced only one certainty: No one really knows what will happen or when. Many veterans of Capitol politics try to find some model in a budget crisis that hit the state 12 years ago, just as Republican Pete Wilson began his governorship. Davis, in fact, is using it as a model for the mixture of spending cuts and new taxes that he's pushing this year. But the actual dynamics of the Capitol today are far different from those of 12 years ago. That fact, when coupled with the deficit's size, contributes to the uncertainty over what will happen.
Davis, for one thing, is far less aggressive in dealing with lawmakers than the feisty Wilson, and the fact that Davis is a Democrat makes his position more difficult. Wilson could, and did, twist the arms of Republican legislators to vote for new taxes, but Davis has almost no leverage on GOP lawmakers.
Davis picked off a few GOP legislators to vote for his budget two years ago, but all of the mavericks who faced voters in Republican primaries last March were defeated. Thus, when Davis and Democratic leaders tried to pick off Republicans on the budget last year, the strategy failed. Now Davis says he wants a bipartisan budget solution -- implicitly acknowledging that his leverage is scant -- and cites that as one rationale for rejecting the Democrats' car tax measure.
Davis, having barely won re-election to a second term and with low public approval ratings, is in poor condition to drive the issue. And lawmakers of both parties are less subject to pressure from voters because of term limits and a status quo redistricting plan -- factors that also weaken legislative leadership. The Capitol is, in brief, a less disciplined, more chaotic place than it was in 1991, and that bodes ill for a timely resolution.
It's impossible to predict with any degree of certainty how this mess plays itself out over the next six, eight or even more months. One cannot even be certain that it will be resolved within the Capitol; the contending factions on spending and taxes may take their battle to the ballot in the form of one or more initiative measures. And Wall Street will impose its own conditions for lending the state billions of dollars to finance a cash flow shortfall. It has the air of one of those historic showdowns over public policy direction: What levels of taxes and public services do Californians really want?
It could even become more complicated if some anti-tax activists follow through with their threat to begin circulating petitions to recall Davis. Conceivably, a recall could wind up on the same ballot with tax and spending measures -- and if so, those who would replace a recalled Davis would have their names on the same ballot.
Bizarre? Yes, but everything about this situation is odd. Nothing -- repeat, nothing -- is out of the realm of possibility.
The Bee's Dan Walters can be reached at (916) 321-1195 or [email protected]
MAYBE big political change has to come to California in the early years of each century. For sure, the combination of record- low fall election turnout and pervasive voter disgust with both this year's major candidates for governor make the time ripe for a new Progressive movement in California. A Progressive movement, that is, of the sort Hiram Johnson led in the California of the early 1900s, nothing like the efforts of ultra-left activists who have lately misappropriated the term.
The early 1900s were the last time voters became as turned off with this state's electoral process as they are today. Back then, the Southern Pacific railroad and Crocker Bank dominated politics and candidates for office were chosen by entrenched party officials. Sound familiar? Today's California politics also are dominated by big- money interests, ranging from labor unions to corporations and movie stars.
The scene in the early 1900s resembled an Augean stable in need of a Hercules to clean it out. The scene in the early 2000s looks just as filthy.
A century ago, an aggressive San Francisco prosecutor named Hiram Johnson became that Herculean character, leading the Progressives to electoral victory in 1910 and immediately setting up a ballot initiative system to let voters make laws on their own and a direct primary system that put political nominations in the hands of the voters.
This could only happen because of massive popular disgust with a political system that encouraged consistent graft and corruption. Distaste today may be just as strong. Election results demonstrate the level of public nausea for today's candidates and parties.
Yes, Democrat Gray Davis was re-elected governor, but fully 1.5 million fewer votes were cast than four years ago. That was also very nearly the exact reduction in the number of votes Davis received this year, compared to 1998. Republican challenger Bill Simon got about 400,000 less votes than the previous GOP loser, Dan Lungren.
Barely 49 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Less than one-third of the 22 million Californians eligible to register actually voted. These numbers are pathetic, but also a protest. Hundreds of thousands of voters who previously turned out for every election did not bother this fall. They made an eloquent statement of public contempt for those who run this state and its political parties.
Yet, the so-called campaign finance reforms passed as the year-2000 Proposition 34 promise only to make things worse. Big-money fund-raising will shift from candidates to political parties in future runs for governor. That is simply a shell game, but it does make previously unimportant party chairmen some of the most powerful figures in the state. If they like, they can finance not only their party's eventual nominees, but also can fund some primary election candidates to the detriment of others.
The old-fashioned bossism Johnson fought may now be back. Which means big changes are plainly in order. Parties must be forbidden from backing candidates in primaries. Primaries need to be opened up to all voters. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the "blanket primary" system California used in 1998 and 2000, but there's no reason this state can't go to a Louisiana-style primary ballot listing all candidates together, with the top two vote-getters going to a runoff regardless of party.
The state Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable are now trying to qualify an initiative for the March 2004 ballot to set up just such a system for future state elections. This system would allow voters to cross party lines as they often did during the just-ended blanket primary era, and it has long withstood legal attacks from Louisiana's political parties.
The once-a-decade redistricting process also must be taken away from politicians who stand to benefit from it. Gerrymandering is the reason California had only five close races out of 173 contests for congressional and legislative jobs this fall. Give redistricting to a nonpartisan panel whose members are approved by all parties that won at least 15 percent of the vote in the last general election.
But who's to do all this? Certainly not Gray Davis, architect of Proposition 34, vacuum cleaner for corporate cash. Nor any current legislative leaders. They all benefit from the system now in place.
Who, then, might be the next Hiram Johnson? A Davis recall drive might be one way to find out. A recall election could be called if about 853,000 voters signed petitions just over half the number who voted for Davis in 1998 but stayed out this year. Alternative candidates would be listed Louisiana- style on the same ballot as the yes-or-no recall question, and if the answer were yes to the recall, there would be a runoff between the two top candidates, with the winner becoming a governor with a mandate for change as strong as Hiram Johnson's ever was.
This would be radical stuff. No California governor has ever been recalled. But public disapproval of the incumbent measured at 64 percent by some exit polls has not run so high in a long time. That disapproval is deserved, too, if only because Davis has done little or nothing to discourage the perception that his policies are for sale.
Is this possible? Maybe. For the message from all those Californians who stayed away from the polls Nov. 5 and the many more who voted while holding their noses is quite clear: It's high time for big change.
Having just experienced -- or endured -- the least relevant, lowest-voting and most banal election year in living memory, Californians should be demanding some systemic changes that would at least give us a chance to elect intelligent and capable officeholders.
If we don't do something, California politics will continue to deteriorate into a game for rich people, ideological warriors, professional insiders and very narrow interests, and public policy will reflect their priorities, not those of a fast-growing and fast-changing state.
As California adds 6 million people to its population every 10 years, as its economy continues to evolve and as its cultural complexity becomes more intense, the real-world challenges multiply. They include a state budget deficit the depth of which may be incalculable, an expanding underclass of ill-educated and low-paid workers and their families, traffic congestion that worsens by the moment, an electric power crisis that's never been fully resolved, huge unmet demands for housing, a looming breakdown in the medical care system, conflicts over land use, a developing water crisis, local government paralysis, and a tidal wave of K-12 and college students that's drowning the schools.
Virtually none of these or the many other issues were mentioned in the nearly year of campaigning that led to last Tuesday's elections. Rather, we were buried in broadcast ads and mailed fliers that, for the most part, exaggerated some minor accomplishments of officeholders, flatly lied about others and besmirched the characters of candidates high and low. This was a year for political tactics, not political debate. And it's become the norm.
There's no guarantee, of course, that reforms will produce a better breed of politicians, but without them, voter interest will continue to fade and classy people will shun a no-class system. Why should a civic-minded person volunteer to have his or her character assassinated? In no particular order, these are a few changes that might make California's political system better than the current mess:
Shift primary elections in nonpresidential years from March back to June so that we are not subjected to eight months of repetitive nonsense that alienates voters. The Legislature, recognizing the mistake of having a primary for state and local offices in March, passed a bill to do that but Gov. Gray Davis vetoed it on the most spurious grounds.
Reinstate some form of the blanket or open primary that California had For two election cycles before the two major political parties won a Supreme Court decision overturning it. It would allow the growing ranks of independent voters to participate and help moderate, pragmatic candidates in both parties compete with ideologues, thus preserving the vital middle. A business-backed coalition, alarmed at the takeover of the Legislature by anti-business liberals, is working on an initiative to restore the open primary.
Remove redistricting from the Legislature, whose conflict of interest is obvious, and give it to an independent, bipartisan and/or non-partisan body. The status quo redistricting scheme adopted by both major parties a year ago effectively eliminates competition for all but a handful of the state's 173 legislative and congressional seats, robbing voters of meaningful choices. The public interest benefits from having as many competitive seats as possible. It preserves the middle, forces at least some debate over real issues and gives voters some real choices.
Eradicate artificial barriers to winning office by minor-party and independent candidates. With 20 percent of California's voters opting for neither of the major parties -- the fastest-growing segment of the electorate -- such monopoly is ridiculous. One simply cannot stuff California's diversity into two parties that are largely driven by their ideological extremes.
Require frequent, fuller and more accessible reportage of campaign money, with tougher conflict-of-interest rules, more severe penalties for violations and more enforcement authority for the Fair Political Practices Commission. Placing limits on campaign contributions tends to drive special interest influence underground, rather than reduce it.
When the California Legislature enacted its two-party, divide-the-spoils legislative and congressional redistricting scheme last year, it generated -- wittingly or otherwise -- dynamics that are unique in the state's political history.
By designating each party's ownership of virtually all 120 legislative districts, the gerrymander comes very close to abolishing partisan competition. But since nature abhors a vacuum, the redistricting decree sets the stage for an unprecedented series of internal party duels along ideological, gender, ethnic and personal -- even familial -- lines, especially in designated Democratic districts. That's because the Democratic Party has more internal factions and because with Democrats in firm control of the Legislature, the winners of their primaries will wield real Capitol power.
An overriding theme to this year's primary clashes is the widespread effort by incumbents, even those retiring from the Legislature, to choose their successors. In several instances, they involve efforts at family succession, topped by a very nasty, three-way battle in San Mateo County among Assemblyman Lou Papan's daughter, Gina; Gene Mullen, who's backed by state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City; and wealthy businessman Dave Pine. Papan and Speier are old rivals for local political dominance.
Other dynastic duels: Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello, followed his brother, Charles, into the Legislature. Tom C. is now running for state insurance commissioner and wants a third brother, Ronald, to succeed him. But Ronald C. faces competition from Chuck Fuentes, an aide to Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-
Allard. Lonnie Hancock, wife of former Assemblyman Tom Bates and former mayor of Berkeley, is trying to keep his old seat within the extended family. Senate President Pro Tem John Burton is backing his brother's nephew, Tim Cohelan, in San Diego's 78th Assembly District against Vince Hall, a former aide to Gov. Gray Davis. And as Assemblyman George Runner, R-Lancaster, runs for the state Senate, his wife, Sharon, runs to succeed him, but she must get by Phil Wyman, an incumbent assemblyman.
The Calderon-Fuentes contest is one of a number of Southern California races reflecting an ongoing struggle for dominance in the region's Latino politics. One example: As Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Mission Hills, gives up his seat for a stab at the Los Angeles City Council, he wants aide Yolanda Fuentes to succeed him, but state Sen. Richard Alarcon, part of a rival faction, is backing Cindy Montanez, a San Fernando city councilwoman.
Latino candidates find themselves dueling with non-Latino rivals representing other Democratic Party sub-groups in several districts. Former Lt. Gov. and Congressman Mervyn Dymally, for example, is trying to keep Los Angeles' 52nd Assembly District in African American hands as Assemblyman Carl Washington's legislative career is ended by term limits. But Latinos outnumber African Americans by over 2-1 in the district, and Dymally is facing labor union official Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker.
In the 80th Assembly District, which sprawls over the vast Southern California desert, meanwhile, Gregory Pettis, a gay Cathedral City councilman, and a once-close friend, construction supervisor Joey Acuna Jr., are locked in what has become a bitter tussle. Pettis entered the race first and former Assemblywoman Denise Ducheny recruited Acuna because she considered the 80th to be a designated Latino district.
Two other prominent gay politicians, Mark Leno and Harry Britt, are also vying in San Francisco to become the Legislature's first openly gay male member. Outgoing Assemblywoman Carole Migden is backing Britt and both also must contend with Mayor Willie Brown's candidate, African American businessman Steve Phillips in a major rift between Brown and the city's influential gay community.
Although the Democrats have most of this year's contentious Assembly primary campaigns, the nastiest of them all may be the tussle between two Fresno Republicans, Steve Samuelian and Larry Willey. Sensational revelations -- Samuelian admitted that he had been ticketed in a police sting operation targeting customers of prostitutes -- and a series of dirty tricks allegations have punctuated the 29th District contest for many weeks.
41st District: Covers parts of the coastal areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Incumbent Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has no opposition in the primary. She'll face Republican Michael Wissot, a former aide to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in November.
42nd District: Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, should have no trouble holding on to this solidly Democratic, Los Angeles area district, which includes Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. The Republican candidate is Jeffrey Bissiri, an architect.
43rd District: Covers Burbank, most of Glendale, North Hollywood and the Atwater and Silver Lake areas of Los Angeles. Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles, will face Republican Ingrid Geyer, a Burbank educator, in November.
44th District: Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, has no opposition in the primary. The Republican candidate is Dan O'Connell, a Los Angeles County prosecutor from Pasadena. The district covers part of Los Angeles and several San Gabriel Valley cities.
45th District: No Republican filed to run against Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, which includes Hollywood and East Los Angeles. Goldberg will face Libertarian Judy Cook, a casting director, in November.
46th District: Incumbent Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, is running for the Senate. Fabian Nunez, a lobbyist for the Los Angeles school district; Pedro Carrillo, an aide to Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles; and Maywood Councilman Thomas Martin are battling for the Democratic nomination. A group of liberal lawmakers is supporting Nunez. The GOP candidate is Manuel Aldana Jr. of Los Angeles, an electrician.
47th District: Democrat Herb Wesson, the new Assembly speaker, will face Republican Jonathan Leonard in November in this district, which includes Culver City and part of Los Angeles.
48th District: Incumbent Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, is termed out. Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is running against Mike Davis, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, for the Democratic nomination. Educator Gerard Robinson is the GOP candidate in this central Los Angeles district.
49th District: Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, should have little trouble holding on to this district, which includes Alhambra, El Monte, Rosemead and several other San Gabriel Valley communities. Her Republican opponent is George Shen, an El Monte businessman.
50th District: Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-Los Angeles, will face one of two GOP candidates _ Gladys Miller or Ruth Gilson _ in November in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, which includes Bellflower, Lynwood, South Gate and part of Downey.
51st District: Includes Gardena, Hathorne, Inglewood, Lawndale and part of Los Angeles. Incumbent Jerome Horton, D-Inglewood, has no opposition.
52nd District: Former Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally is one of four Democrats running to succeed Assemblyman Carl Washington, D-Paramount, who is termed out. Mark Iles is the Republican candidate. The district includes Compton, Paramount and parts of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
53rd District: Assemblyman George Nakano, D-Torrance, will face Republican Linda Wilson, a Manhattan Beach councilwoman, in November in this coastal district, which includes Torrance, El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Lomita, Manhattan Beach, Venice, Redondo Beach and Marina del Rey.
54th District: Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, will face Republican Cesar Castellanos, a Long Beach real estate agent, in November in this potentially competitive district, which includes Palos Verdes Estates, San Pedro and western Long Beach.
55th District: No Republican filed to run against Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach. She'll face Libertarian Guy Wilson, a merchant seaman from Carson, in November. The district includes Carson, most of Lakewood, and part of Long Beach.
56th District: Incumbent Sally Havice, D-Cerritos, is termed out and running for Congress. Norwalk Councilman Rudy Bermudez, Artesia Councilwoman Sally Zuniga Flowers and Bob Davis, a Buena Park real estate agent, are running for the Democratic nomination. Bermudez is backed by a group of liberal Democratic lawmakers. Whittier business owner John Brantuk Sr. is the GOP candidate. District includes Norwalk, Buena Park, Cerritos and part of Whittier and Lakewood.
57th District: Assemblyman Ed Chavez, D-La Puente, is seeking a second term. Ann Moll of Covina and Paul Pimentel of West Covina are running for the Republican nomination. The solidly Democratic district covers several eastern San Gabriel Valley cities.
58th District: Incumbent Tom Calderon, D-Montebello, is running for state insurance commissioner, and his brother Ronald, an aide to Assemblyman Ed Chavez, D-La Puente, is one of three Democratic candidates trying to succeed him. A group of liberal Democratic lawmakers is supporting Charles Fuentes, who has worked for a number of Democratic politicians. Dave Butler, the mayor pro tem of Whittier, is the Republican candidate.
59th District: Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, will face Democrat Patrick Smith, a technology systems analyst from La Verne, in November. The heavily Republican district stretches from San Gabriel Valley to Lake Arrowhead and the desert communities of Apple Valley and Hesperia.
60th District: Redistricting made this a safe district for Assemblyman Robert Pacheco, R-Walnut. The Democratic candidate is Adrian Martinez, an educator from La Habra Heights. The district covers parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties.
61st District: Redistricting gave Assemblywoman Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, a stronger hold on her seat. Her Republican opponent is Matt Munson, an Ontario journalist. The district includes Pomona, Chino, Montclair and Ontario.
62nd District: Assemblyman John Longville, D-Rialto, should have little trouble winning a third term in this heavily Democratic district, which covers Colton, Rialto and most of Fontana and San Bernardino. The Republican candidate is Rialto business owner Edward Scott.
63rd District: Incumbent Bill Leonard, R-Rancho Cucamonga, is termed out and running for the state Board of Equalization. Three Republicans and a Democrat are running to succeed him in a solidly Republican district that includes Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands and part of San Bernardino and Yucaipa.
64th District: Redistricting created major changes in this Riverside area district, stretching it east to take in the desert cities of Palm Desert, Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage. Incumbent Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside, is a term-limits victim. Three Republicans and two Democrats are running to succeed him.
65th District: Includes Yucaipa, Banning, Beaumont, Hemet, Perris and nearly half of Moreno Valley. Assemblyman Russ Bogh, R-Yucaipa, will face Darrel Scholes, an operating engineer from Hemet, in November
66th District: Assemblyman Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula, and state Sen. Ray Haynes, R-Riverside, are trying to trade places. Hollingsworth is running for the Senate. Haynes, who is termed out of the Senate, is running for Hollingsworth's seat. The Democratic candidate is Dennis Brostrom, a retired clergyman from Wildomar.
67th District: Assemblyman Tom Harman, a rare moderate in the GOP caucus, should have little trouble winning a second term in this northwestern Orange County district. His Democratic opponent in November will be William Orton, director of a nonprofit organization.
68th District: Redistricting strengthened Republican Assemblyman Ken Maddox's hold on his Orange County district, which includes Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley and parts of Stanton, Westminster, Anaheim and Newport Beach. Al Snook, a Garden Grove businessman and teacher, is the Democratic candidate.
69th District: Covers Santa Ana and parts of Anaheim and Garden Grove. This is the only Orange County Assembly seat that Democrats hold and it should remain in the Democratic column this year. The incumbent, Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, will face Republican Reuben Ross, a Santa Ana businessman, in November.
70th District: Overwhelmingly Republican district that includes Laguna Beach, Irvine and most of Newport Beach and Tustin. Assemblyman John Campbell, R-Irvine, will face Democrat John Kane, a computer programmer from Lake Forest, in November.
71st District: Assemblyman Bill Campbell, R-Villa Park, is termed out. Republican Todd Spitzer, an Orange County supervisor, and Bea Foster, a Santa Ana English teacher, are trying to succeed him in this overwhelmingly Republican district, which includes Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Corona, Norco and parts of the cities of Orange, Anaheim and Tustin.
72nd District: Solidly Republican district that covers Brea, Fullerton, Placentia and parts of Anaheim, La Habra, Orange and Yorba Linda. Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, R-Brea, will be challenged by Democrat Gangadharappa Nanjundappa, a sociology professor at California State University, Fullerton, in November.
73rd District: Assemblywoman Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, should have no trouble winning a third term in one of the most heavily Republican districts in the state. The Democratic candidate is Kathleen Calzada, an Oceanside educator. The district covers southwest corner of Orange County and northwestern San Diego County.
74th District: Solidly Republican. Includes Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Vista, San Marcos and most of Escondido as well as small parts of Oceanside and San Diego. The incumbent is Mark Wyland, R-Escondido. The Democratic candidate is John Herrera, a retired disability analyst from Vista.
75th District: Incumbent Charlene Zettel, R-San Diego, is running for the Senate, and five Republicans and a Democrat are trying to succeed her in this heavily Republican district, which includes Poway and parts of San Diego and Escondido.
76th District: Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, will face Republican Bob Divine, a former Navy commander, in November. District includes most of downtown San Diego as well as Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Point Loma.
77th District: Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, is running for a second term. He'll face Democrat Sarah Lowery, a retired office manger from Santee, in November. District covers a large chuck of eastern and southern San Diego County, including El Cajon, La Mesa, and Santee.
78th District: Incumbent Howard Wayne, D-San Diego, is termed out, and five Democrats and two Republicans are trying to succeed him. District includes part of San Diego and Chula Vista.
79th District: Covers southwest corner of San Diego County, including Coronado, Imperial Beach, San Ysidro and parts of San Diego and Chula Vista. Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, is running for a second term. Mark Fast, a Chula Vista engineer, is the Republican candidate.
80th District: Incumbent David Kelley, R-Hemet, is retiring. Three Democrats and four Republicans have filed to run for the seat. Redistricting significantly increased Democratic clout in the district, which covers Imperial County as well as the Riverside County cities of Blythe, Indio, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Cathedral City. A group of liberal Democratic lawmakers is backing Gregory Pettis, a Cathedral City councilman.
On January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court decision that Latino voting rights were not violated by a 2001 redistricting plan for two congressional seats in San Fernando Valley. Filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the lawsuit claimed that Democrats in the state legislature diluted the Latino vote by dividing the former 26th Congressional District, in which Latinos had a majority, into two new districts in which Latinos are in the minority. In June, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled that Latino voting power would not be diluted by the new district lines because Latino political power has grown considerably and because "whites and other non-Latinos are currently far more willing to support Latino candidates for office than in the past." In other redistricting news, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a Georgia case involving state senate districts that a three-judge panel rejected because the districts did not ensure minority voting power. The Court is likely to hear the case in April. For more information about the California decision, see Democracy Dispatches #23. AP 1/14/03, LA Times 1/15/03, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 1/18/03
With little worry about their own re-election, some members of California's congressional delegation are playing active roles in party primaries for the two U.S. House districts in which no incumbent is running.
Those districts, as well as the San Joaquin Valley seat of Democratic Rep. Gary Condit, are the only ones in which the outcome is in doubt, political operatives in both parties agree.
Of California's 53 House districts _ the state is gaining a seat because of population growth _ incumbents are widely expected to win re-election in 50 of them. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, has no major-party opponent and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Pleasanton, faces one primary challenger who likes her record.
The Legislature's once-a-decade redistricting that followed the 2000 Census placed a premium on protecting incumbents and making congressional districts either safely Democratic or Republican. "After redistricting, there are no competitive congressional seats left in California," said Dan Schnur, a veteran Republican aide.
Even in the two districts with no incumbent running, the March 5 primary is expected to be decisive. Condit's seat is competitive race because of the incumbent's relationship with Chandra Levy, the 24-year-old former federal intern from Modesto, Calif., who disappeared in Washington in May.
Many members of Congress stay neutral in primaries, reasoning little good can come from meddling.
But Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and eight other House Republicans are backing 28-year-old Devin Nunes in the race for an agriculture-based Central Valley seat representing parts of Fresno and all of Tulare counties. Nunes was briefly a Bush administration appointee, serving as state director for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, until he stepped down to mount his second campaign for Congress.
Thomas's role has irritated Nunes' more politically experienced opponents, state Assemblyman Mike Briggs and former Fresno mayor Jim Patterson. "The last thing we need is another congressman from Kern County," Briggs said.
Briggs was one of four Republicans who joined Democrats last year to break a stalemate over Democratic Gov. Gray Davis's budget. He said he seized an opportunity to extract concessions from Assembly Democrats that have aided local farmers. Patterson touts the reduction in crime in Fresno during his time as mayor.
Briggs, 42, and Patterson, 53, have been trying to make an issue of Nunes' age. "Voters are going to look for a serious, experienced, trusted person who's got a few years on them," Patterson said.
Nunes promotes himself as the only farmer and the only Tulare County resident among the major candidates.
In the Los Angeles area, an open seat is expected to be another gain for the state's growing Hispanic population and for Democrats. The three major Democratic contenders are all Hispanic.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, who upset Republican longtime Rep. Bob Dornan in 1996, is heavily involved because her sister, Linda, is a candidate.
Hector de la Torre, a South Gate city councilman, is running a strong race in some polls. Assemblywoman Sally Havice, 64, who has won three competitive races for the Legislature, said she is building support among "thousands of former students" from her English class at Cerritos College.
Loretta Sanchez has lent her sister her press secretary, Carrie Brooks, who also remains on the congressional staff in a reduced role. The congresswoman's popularity has been a big boost to her younger sister, who is 32.
"The message is not, 'Vote for me because I'm Loretta's sister,'" Linda Sanchez, a lawyer, said. "Vote for me because I happen to be very qualified and passionate about Democratic issues. The fact that Loretta has high name ID helps convey that to voters."
Emily's List, a Washington-based organization that raises money for women who support abortion rights, has endorsed Sanchez.
De La Torre, 36, is a former Clinton administration aide, who has picked up the endorsements of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte. "I'm the only candidate with any Washington experience," said de la Torre.
In Condit's district, the embattled incumbent from Ceres is holding a series of sidewalk chats, presenting himself as the most experienced and knowledgeable of the candidates, said Chad Condit, the congressman's son and campaign manager.
His major primary opponent is Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, a one-time protege who has secured support from prominent Democrats who say Condit's saga has embarrassed them. Republicans say they will focus on this Democratic-leaning seat in the fall if Condit survives the primary.
Voters, beware. Redistricting is back. Every 10 years, it revisits us like a recurring plague. This year's shenanigans show just why the renewed civic pride in the wake of September's terrorist attacks won't bring many disenchanted Americans back to the polls.
After the release of new census numbers, all legislative districts in the nation must be redrawn to make sure that they are closely equal in population. In a large state, that means about 640,000 residents for each U.S. House district.
Whichever political party controls the line-drawing process has the God- like powers to guarantee themselves majority control and make or break individual political careers. They rely on "packing" and "cracking": packing as many opponents into as few districts as possible, and cracking an opponent's natural base into different districts. Powerful computers and software have made this process of unnatural selection ever more sophisticated and precise.
Does it make a difference? You bet it does.
In Virginia, the Democrats in 2001 won their first statewide race for governor since 1989. But Republicans went from barely controlling the statehouse to a two-thirds majority. How? Republicans, according to published reports, drew the district lines.
One of the best examples of partisan gerrymandering was California's congressional plan in the 1980s. The late Democratic Rep. Phil Burton, its chief architect, created a number of oddly shaped districts, calling it his "contribution to modern art." The result?
In the 1984 elections, Democrats increased their share of California's house seats to 60 percent even as Ronald Reagan's landslide presidential win helped Republican congressional candidates win more votes than Democrats in the state.
This year, in various states, one party indeed has stuck it to the other -- just ask a Republican who was "mugged" in Georgia or Maryland or a Democrat "roughed up" in Michigan or Pennsylvania. How?
In all those states and more, one party or the other used its redistricting advantage to wipe out seats of the opposition.
But this year, the real story is that both parties have often colluded to take on their real enemy: the voters.
This year will go down in political history for the crass way it has raised "incumbent protection" to a whole new level. With half the states finished with redistricting, the current round may be the most anti-democratic ever.
Take California. The California Democratic party controlled redistricting, and its leaders decided to cement their advantage rather then expand it. Incumbents took no chances. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, acknowledged to the Orange County Register that she and most of her Democratic colleagues in the House forked over $20,000 each to Michael Berman, the powerful Democratic Party consultant in charge of redistricting.
While not illegal, the money was classic "protection money." Sanchez said that "$20,000 is nothing to keep your seat. I spend $2 million (campaigning) every election. If my colleagues are smart, they'll pay their $20,000, and Michael will draw the district they can win in."
California's Republican Party, which has vociferously opposed past Democratic redistricting plans, was largely mute. That's because their pliant incumbents also received safe seats. The one incumbent facing a tough re- election battle, Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Long Beach, promptly announced his retirement; the rest are likely free from serious competition for the next 10 years.
The story has been the same in state after state. The Wall Street Journal in a November editorial on "The Gerrymander Scandal" estimated that as few as 30 of the 435 U.S. House seats will be competitive next year. Already fewer than 1 in 10 House seats were won by competitive margins in 1998 and 2000.
The ones hurt by these back-room deals are the voters. For most, their only real choice in the next decade will be to ratify the candidate of the party that was handed that district in redistricting.
One-party fiefdoms will be the rule no matter what changes are made in campaign financing and term limits until we reform the redistricting process or turn to more innovative voting methods such as proportional representation.
There once was a time when voters went to the polls to pick their representatives. But that's changed. Now, the representatives pick us first. Following on the heels of Florida's election debacle, this only further undermines confidence in our already shaky political system.
Rob Richie and Steven Hill are, respectively, the executive director and the western regional director of the Center for Voting and Democracy in Takoma Park, Md., and co-authors of "Whose Vote Counts?" (Beacon Press, 2001).