California's Redistricting News
Wall Street Journal:
"Cheating Seating." December 27, 2001
Map of proposed Congressional districts available August 31, 2001
Wall Street Journal
By Editorial Staff
December 27, 2001
When last we wrote about the "bipartisan scandal" known as gerrymandering, we zeroed in on the way it takes the competition out of Congressional elections. But it turns out things are worse than we thought: Gerrymandering is even affecting votes in Congress. Witness the ideological pirouette now being performed by California Representative Ellen Tauscher.
Ms. Tauscher is a three-term Democrat from the suburbs of San Francisco who won her seat as a moderate free-trader. She became vice chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, chiding her own party' protectionists and voting for several trade accords. Business groups threw their support and cash behind her re-election, along with other "New Democrats."
So they (and we) were shocked to discover that in the critical vote to grant President Bush trade promotion authorityˇwhich passed by a single voteˇMs. Tauscher cast her lot with the "nays." At first we suspected pressure from Big Labor, but that proved to be only half right. The bigger cause of her 180-degree ideological shift turns out to be California's once-a-decade gerrymander. Like every other Congressperson in our most populous state, Ms. Tauscher has suddenly been granted a "safe" seat. Provided she plays by the new rules, that is.
Ms. Tauscher's new safe seat is part of a redistricting plan which Democrats saw as a way of protecting their 32 to 20 advantage in the state's Congressional delegation. The deal they struck protected incumbents of both parties, pushing Democratic voters into districts with Democratic representatives and Republican voters into districts with Republican representatives. Only a handful of these seats had ever been competitive, and Ms. Tauscher's was one of them.
But now essentially none of them will be. The head of the GOP Congressional campaign committee, Tom Davis, has already suggested he'll invest no money in any California races in 2002. Given California's size, that means that one-eighth of the entire U.S. House of Representatives will face no real competition from the other party.
As Ms. Tauscher's trade vote shows, all of this has real-world political consequences. Though Ms. Tauscher no longer need worry about losing to a Republican, what she does have to worry about now is the Democratic primary, where the new challenge will come from a labor-left far less amenable to her pro-trade views.
Her local paper, the Contra Costa Times, calls this "punitive redistricting." And Ms. Tauscher herself blasted the redistricting plan as retribution for her pro-business views and her failure to endorse San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi for minority House whip.
Liberal line-drawers stretched what had been a compact district all the way to Sacramento County, replacing her swing suburbanites with union members and liberals.
For Ms. Tauscher that means that the safest political play now is to repudiate her former principles and become a protectionist. Which is exactly what she's now done.
The California gerrymander also affects Gary Condit, whose relatively moderate district (53% of whom voted for George W. Bush) has just been stuffed with more Democrats. This includes a significant boost in Hispanics who might be more likely to vote for primary challenger Dennis Cardoza, a state assemblyman, and an influx of more Democrats from Stockton expected to favor a more liberal challenger.
Now, we don't mind a good ideological fight. But gerrymanders mean that such fights actually matter less in the public arena because they have less chance to change any votes or seats. Members in "safe" seats seldom change their minds, and only the rare national tidal wave can make more than a handful of gerrymandered seats competitive.
It tells us much about the state of play in Washington that despite its corrupting influence on our politics, gerrymandering never attracts the passion that, say, attaches itself to campaign-finance "reform"ˇwhich would only help make incumbents safer in their seats. But maybe that's the point. As the Tauscher turnabout shows, gerrymanders mean that the voters no longer choose their politicians; the politicians choose their voters.
Los Angeles Times
Panel Is Urged to Offset Census Undercount
By Patrick McGreevy
December 21, 2001
A panel redrawing Los Angeles City Council district boundaries was urged by civil rights leaders Thursday to adjust U.S. census figures to make up for an undercount of minority residents in some parts of the city.
The City Council Redistricting Commission heard from representatives of Latino, African American and Asian American groups arguing that districts with high concentrations of minority residents should be drawn to be smaller in population than others to balance the clout of undercounted minorities.
"Every survey that has been done indicates an undercount is prevalent, and especially in the inner-city areas," said Larry Aubry of the NAACP. "There is no question there should be special attention to that. Otherwise it dilutes the voting strength of people." The commission has a moral responsibility to make sure that minority residents do not suffer a reduction in their political voice because they are undercounted, said Amadis Velez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The commission directed its staff to collect data for possible adjustments in the census data--such as poverty rates--but put off a final decision.
Some commissioners sounded sympathetic to the request to draw heavily minority council districts with 2.5% fewer people than other districts.
But other members of the panel said they will fight any attempt to draw districts using data other than that collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"An adjustment of U.S. government figures will adversely affect the San Fernando Valley," said Commissioner Richard Close, who is chairman of the group Valley VOTE. "It will reduce our chance of getting a fifth or sixth council district that we are entitled to."
The commission heard from demographics experts, including Leo Estrada and Eugene Grigsby, both of UCLA, that formulas exist to determine where undercounts are most likely.
The 2000 census is believed to have undercounted Los Angeles' population by about 2.1%, or 76,000 people, according to Assistant City Atty. Jessica Heinz, citing a national study.
Estrada said studies indicate many of those not counted are poor and minority residents and include the homeless and immigrants.
But because the Census Bureau will not release raw data on possible undercounts at the census-block level, the city will have to use other methods to determine which parts of the city have high concentrations of undercounted residents, experts said.
Estrada said poverty rates, the percentage of people renting versus owning their homes, and household sizes are indicators that can identify areas of likely undercount.
Using that data, the demographics experts said the greatest undercount is believed to be in South-Central, East Los Angeles and part of the east San Fernando Valley.
Grigsby said the amount of potential undercount last year was small compared with previous censuses because of minority outreach programs.
Los Angeles Times
Redistricting Gives No Party an Edge
By Robert Tanner
December 4, 2001
Less than a year before elections put control of Congress to voters, the behind-the-scenes struggle to gain an advantage through redistricting has so far kept both Republicans and Democrats from making decisive gains.
Republican strategists maintain they'll come out ahead after GOP-controlled legislatures in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida finish their work. Democrats see more to back their prediction that the balance will remain unchanged, a view many political scientists echo.
"This is a game in which people are grinding out one yard at a time by brute force. There are no long-run touchdowns here," said Bernard Grofman, a political science professor at University of California at Irvine. "The potential for really changing the map just isn't very large."
Redistricting is the redrawing of political lines to account for population changes, required after the new census. Maps from Congress down to city councils must be redrawn so electoral districts, at each level in government, are equal in population.
Republicans came into the process hoping they would wind up with a good chance to expand their 10-seat majority in the House of Representatives by creating a bunch of new, GOP-majority districts.
But GOP hopes were damaged -- though not destroyed -- by a court-ordered Texas map last month that only creates two new likely Republican districts. Some state leaders had predicted an eight-seat gain.
In California, Democrats cut a deal that drew the state's lone new seat to their side, adding one to their current 32-20 hold over the state's delegation. Some Democrats had hoped for a three-seat gain.
Overall, the nationwide map is still incomplete and facing several legal challenges. But the signs point to a political landscape without radical changes. Hispanics are making gains, though fewer than some hoped, while blacks are just holding their own.
The new maps themselves don't decide who wins and loses -- voters do that on Election Day -- but they can draw a district with so many members of one party as to make it a sure thing.
As 2002 approaches, 20 states have finished congressional redistricting, slightly less than half that must. (Seven states have only one congressional district).
So far, in maps approved or near approval:
Republicans appear likely to see a five-seat swing in Michigan, two seats in Texas and a possible Utah seat. They are likely to lose a seat in Indiana. In all, that would be a seven-seat gain.
Democrats may pick up new single seats in Arizona, California and North Carolina, and lose a seat in Illinois and maybe Utah. In Georgia, new maps would give Democrats a six-seat swing, though those maps face federal scrutiny. That would also mean a seven-seat gain.
Competitive seats are getting attention in Arizona and Nevada, with neither party clearly ahead there. At least a half-dozen state maps are headed to court.
In the remaining states, the GOP is hoping to break ahead by gaining as many as eight seats in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida.
With his possible political future waiting in yet-to-be-drawn maps, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, said he's already considering a gubernatorial run or a challenge to a neighboring GOP congressman.
"If they are so outrageous that they, for all practical purposes, destroy my district as it currently exists, I have options," he said. In other states, lawmakers have picked up and moved to different districts.
Republicans hope to expand their current 220-210 majority in the U.S. House. (There are two independents). Democrats hope to take control.
"The math does not add up for Democrats," said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "There's a loss of congressional seats in Democratic territory in the Northeast that's moving to Republican territory in the South and Southwest."
Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Texas said: "This is going to be a break-even nationally, and then the election will be determined on the merits. Whichever party presents the best case will win the election."
New maps in many states effectively protect incumbents, offering fewer opportunities for minorities and reducing the number of truly competitive districts, said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
He said there will be fewer than 40 competitive districts come the midterm elections, an estimate Schmidt agreed with. That, McDonald said, will leave a polarized Congress even more prone to gridlock.
Most representatives are "going to be conservative Republicans or liberal Democrats," he said. "There won't be much chance for compromise, I'd say, out of the House of Representatives."
Latino Groups Say Plans Shortchange Them, Say They Will Ask for Lawsuit
By Associated Press
December 3, 2001
New state Senate and congressional districts approved by the California Legislature weaken the ability of Latinos to win elections, three Latino groups said Monday.
The California Latino Redistricting Coalition, the Los Angeles County Chicano Employees Association and the Latino Coalition for Fair Reapportionment said they would ask the U.S. Justice Department to go to court to try to overturn the challenged districts.
"It is clear to our organizations that the primary goal of the Democratic legislative leadership plans was incumbent protection so they could obtain bipartisan support," the groups said in a report sent to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Legislative leaders say the plans, adopted in September and signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis, are fair to Latinos.
Among other things, the three groups said lawmakers:
Packed heavily Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County into four Senate districts when "population and (voter) registration would easily justify five majority Latino ... districts."
Created five congressional districts in Los Angeles County that are likely to elect a Latino when they could have created seven.
Could have created two congressional districts in the Central Valley where Latino voters would have had considerable influence instead of one.
The study also said that lawmakers undercut Latino voting power by the way they drew districts in the Monterey-Santa Cruz and San Diego areas.
The Justice Department has already rejected one challenge to state Senate lines in the Monterey-Santa Cruz area.
Another Latino group, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles challenging some of the same districts as the other three groups.
Rocky Mountain News
Latino Groups Ask Justice Department to Redraw Calif. Voting Lines
By Aurelio Rojas
November 29, 2001
Citing violations of the Voting Rights Act, a group of Latino organizations Thursday asked the U.S. Justice Department to redraw portions of California's new congressional and state Senate districts.
The California Latino Redistricting Coalition is contesting the voter composition of four congressional seats in Southern and Central California and three Senate districts, including the 12th District seat held by Dick Monteith, R-Modesto.
The boundaries, overwhelmingly approved in September by the Democratically-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis, bolster incumbents of both parties.
But according to a 21-page complaint filed with the Justice Department, the plans weaken the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice. In a separate complaint filed with the Justice Department earlier this month, the coalition charged new congressional districts in Los Angeles and Oakland also violate the voting rights of African-Americans.
"It is indeed ironic that the Democratic leadership in the Assembly, state Senate, and congressional delegation chose incumbent protection over treating its most loyal voters who are African-Americans and Latinos in a fair manner," the complaint contends.
In their defense, legislative leaders and the governor have noted the new districts were approved by members of all ethnic groups. But coalition officials contend that during the once-a-decade redistricting process, members of the Legislature were so concerned with strengthening their seats that they violated sections of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The complaint singles out two Los Angeles-area congressional districts - the 28th, represented by Howard Berman, D-Mission Hills, and the 42nd, held by Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar. Also contested are the 51st District represented by Bob Filner, D-San Diego, and the 22nd by Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.
In addition to Monteith's district, the Senate seats named in the complaint are the 15th, represented by Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, and the 27th represented by Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach.
The coalition, which includes the Los Angeles County Employees Association and Latino Coalition for Fair Reapportionment, plans to ask the Justice Department to file a lawsuit to correct the alleged violations.
"We believe we have the law on our side, and if the system is fair, we will be victorious," said Alan Clayton, the coalition's chief researcher.
Justice Department officials did not return telephone calls.
Thursday's complaint is the latest challenge to the redistricting plan. The Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund has filed suit in Los Angeles contesting some of the same districts. A panel of federal judges has refused to postpone the March primary as requested by MALDEF, but has allowed the suit to proceed.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek, the NAACP and the La Raza Lawyers Association have asked the Justice Department to reject newly drawn Senate districts in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
They allege Latinos are concentrated in a single district, depriving them of an opportunity to elect two senators.
Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said the legal challenges face large hurdles.
That's because unlike the fractious redistricting battles of past decades, this year's plans were approved with bi-partisan support.
As a result, Cain said the Bush Administration's Justice Department may be disinclined to become involved unless there are flagrant violations. In addition, the plans will likely allow the out-manned Republicans in California to hold onto the seats the party currently holds.
"There may be some tweaking done, but I wouldn't bet the farm there will be wholesale changes," Cain said.
Contact Aurelio Rojas of the Sacramento Bee in California at [email protected]
San Fracisco Chronicle
Bay Area Roundup
November 21, 2001
The director of a San Francisco Asian American nonprofit organization and a prominent local political consultant says that next year's redistricting process will be vital to getting more political representation for the city's Asian community.
Currently, one Asian American sits on the 11-member Board of Supervisors while the city is approximately one third Asian. In order to change that, Asian Americans must begin organizing now for the 2002 redistricting, according to David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee.
"It is a big deal. What's at stake is the ability of Asian Americans to gain representation on the Board of Supervisors," Lee said Tuesday.
Political consultant Dawn Solem said that with a redistricting that favors the Asian community, almost half of the 11 members on the board could be Asian.
"You could draw lines that would ensure ... four or five Asian Americans on the board," Solem said.
The deadline for the board to approve a redistricting plan is April 2002. One half of the board, including Districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, are up for re-election next year.
The biggest obstacle to Asian American representation on the board is likely to be community apathy, Lee said.
"Clearly, apathy is a big issue in the Asian American community. But if we educate the community as to what is at stake," then a significant increase in the number of Asian representatives is possible, Lee said.
Redistricting is the most important way for any community in America to get its voice heard in the hall of government, according to Solem.
San Francisco Chronicle
Berkeley May Vote on Redistrict Plan
By Janine DeFao
November 15, 2001
In Berkeley yesterday, activists turned in nearly 8,000 signatures for a March ballot measure that would overturn a city redistricting plan approved 5 to 4 by the council last month.
Supporters of the measure -- including the four council members on the losing side of the vote -- claim that the council's leftist majority redrew district lines in a backroom deal. They say too many voters ended up in centrist Polly Armstrong's district, therefore diluting each resident's vote.
In addition, the redistricting moved a large number of students from the University of California at Berkeley into Armstrong's district, which critics said could give a leftist candidate an edge over the moderate Armstrong.
The Berkeley city clerk's office must validate at least 4,088 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. But supporters hope the council majority will rescind its vote and adopt a new plan before the initiative goes to the voters.
San Francisco Chronicle
High Court Declines to Review Redistricting Challenges
By David Kravets
November 14, 2001
The California Supreme Court declined Wednesday to hear lawsuits challenging the Legislature's redistricting plans in Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties.
Without comment, the high court voted in private not to review challenges to the new legislative and congressional boundaries approved by the Legislature that Gov. Gray Davis signed in September. Lawmakers must reapportion boundaries every decade.
The case from San Joaquin County charged that the new legislative and congressional districts illegally cut up the county and its biggest city, Stockton. The suit contends that legislators weakened the county's influence by dividing it among four state Assembly districts, two state Senate districts and two congressional districts.
The state constitution requires redistricting plans to respect city, county and regional boundaries "to the extent possible," the suit said. The suit also speculated that it is possible that none of the Assembly members elected to the four new districts would live in San Joaquin County.
Assembly speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said the Assembly "devoted an enormous amount of time and energy and engaged in an extraordinarily open process" to assure that the redistrict plan met state needs and mandate of the state and federal constitutions.
The high court also declined to hear two lawsuits involving Santa Clara County's mapping.
The suit claims that the plan unconstitutionally divides an Asian-American community in San Jose into two Assembly districts, possibly diluting their influence. Another suit in that county demands that the Morgan Hill area not contain more than one Assembly, Senate and congressional district.
The high court's decision Wednesday may not end litigation on the challenges, which sought to prevent new boundaries from being used during the March primaries. California's lower courts may be called upon to challenge the state Senate and congressional plans, said Bion Gregory, the Legislature's counsel. The Legislature has said disputes about the Assembly redistricting plan must be heard before the state Supreme Court.
"But the Legislature did not say that the Supreme Court was the sole place for Assembly challenges," said Marc Robinson, an attorney challenging the San Joaquin redistricting plan.
Also, the federal courts could become a venue in some of the cases.
A Los Angeles federal court is hearing a challenge to redistricting in San Fernando Valley and San Diego.
That suit alleges the congressional districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties were drawn to protect incumbent Reps. Howard Berman, Bob Filner, and Brad Sherman, all Democrats, from potential Hispanic challengers.
The lawsuit also alleges the drawing of state Senate districts in southeast Los Angeles County diluted Hispanic voting power. That case is pending.
The Los Angeles case is Cano v. Davis, 01-08477.
The San Joaquin County case is Andal v. Davis, S101573.
The Santa Clara County cases are Kennedy v. Davis, S101719 and Nadler v. Davis, S101651.
Rocky Mountain News
Calif. Supreme Court Will Not Look at Remapped Voting Districts
By Claire Cooper
November 14, 2001
The California Supreme Court declined Wednesday to take up a trio of legal challenges to California's decennial remapping of voting districts.
The court's brief orders, handed down without explanation, as is customary in such decisions, made it likely that for the first time in 30 years, the state's highest court would not have a major hand in the legislative and congressional redistricting.
The new district maps would be used for the first time in the March 2002 primary elections.
The justices declined to review separate lawsuits to keep that from happening, filed by voters and public officials in Stockton, Santa Clara and Morgan Hill.
All claimed their right to effective representation was diluted by carving their cities or counties into too many voting districts, in violation of the state constitution.
The Santa Clara suit also claimed that city's Asian American community had its voting strength in the Assembly diluted so that a new Latino district could be created.
But lawyers representing the Legislature, which designs both the state's 120 legislative districts and its 53 congressional districts, said the new district maps divide fewer cities and counties than the old ones.
Some cities and counties must be split among two or more districts to permit compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court's one person-one vote rule and other legal requirements, they said, and district lines must be moved to account for population growth and shifts.
Joseph Remcho, who represented the Assembly in the cases, said the Assembly "put a tremendous amount of effort this year into making sure that the plans fully complied with all provisions of state and federal law."
Marc Robinson, who represented Dean Andal, a member of the state Board of Equalization and the lead plaintiff in the Stockton suit, called the Supreme Court's orders "a loss for the residents and voters of California." He said he will consult Andal about taking the case back to Sacramento County Superior Court, where he first filed it. That court did not act on it.
Contact Claire Cooper of the Sacramento Bee in California at [email protected]
Rocky Mountain News
Latino Lawmakers Sound Off Against Mexican American Voting Group
By Laura Mecoy
November 7, 2001
In challenging the state's new election boundaries, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is battling some of its former allies and facing charges that it is "racially divisive."
MALDEF lost its bid Monday to halt the March primary elections in two San Fernando Valley and two San Diego congressional districts.
But it is pushing ahead with its legal challenge and coming under fire from Latino lawmakers.
State Sens. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, went public with the dispute last week by writing an editorial in which they labeled MALDEF's lawsuit "frivolous and racially divisive."
They say the state's new election boundaries - which were supported by 23 of the California's 26 Latino lawmakers - strengthen the re-election prospects for Latino incumbents.
In addition, they said, it created a new Latino congressional district in Los Angeles.
MALDEF Vice President Thomas A. Saenz said he was "obviously disappointed" by the criticism but that it's not the first time MALDEF has found itself at odds with Latino elected officials.
"This is probably a little more intense," he said, "but we have had this experience before."
He said MALDEF is representing the interests of the Latino community, while Latino lawmakers are trying to "protect themselves."
MALDEF contends the Legislature's mapmakers intentionally diluted the Latino vote during its once-a-decade redistricting.
It claims the mapmakers were trying to ensure Democratic incumbents wouldn't face Latino challenges for the Los Angeles County Senate seat held by Betty Karnette, the San Fernando Valley House seat held by Howard Berman and the San Diego County House seat held by Bob Filner.
But Escutia and Romero said elections are no longer "just about race." They said Latino candidates could win districts where Latino voters are a minority, as did Sens. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and Liz Figueroa, D-Fremont.
"Our success lies in proclaiming that the Latino agenda is (and should be) the American agenda," they wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "No one holds a monopoly on this message."
If that were the case, Saenz said, the mapmakers wouldn't have split the Latino vote in the districts MALDEF challenged.
"You do not intentionally break up a group if you don't believe group-based voting occurs," Saenz said.
MALDEF based its request for the election postponement on declarations from prominent Latino leaders who said they had participated in phone conversations either with Michael Berman, the Democrats' top redistricting consultant, or about him.
The declarations claimed Berman had said he was reducing the number of Latino voters in the districts at issue to protect incumbents from Latino challenges.
Jonathan Steinberg, who defended the new districts on behalf of the state Senate, disputed the claims in the declarations.
He said the districts MALDEF challenged are ones in which Latinos have an "equal opportunity" to win.
He said MALDEF is trying to create "slam-dunk" districts for Latino candidates, and that is not required under federal law.
"There is a suggestion that the incumbency is something the courts need to get in and root out," he told the court. "The Supreme Court says no."
He said MALDEF's loss Monday showed that the three-judge panel rejected the claim that there was "going to be some horrible loss of voting rights."
But Saenz said he was encouraged because the judges' ruling said MALDEF raised "important and substantial questions of fact."
The judges also said these issues need to be developed through further hearings and urged the lawyers to work out a schedule to bring the case to trial before the March primary.
"It is going to be tough for us, but these cases are never easy," MALDEF Chairwoman Gloria Molina said. "It is going to be a complicated case, and drawing the line between law and politics is going to be very difficult."
Los Angeles Times
Panel Rejects Delay of Primaries
By Dalondo Moultrie
November 7, 2001
A panel of federal judges in Los Angeles has refused to postpone March primary elections in several congressional districts as requested in a lawsuit challenging the state's recently enacted redistricting plan, officials said Tuesday.
The three-judge panel said a temporary restraining order sought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was denied because the nonprofit group's arguments did not overcome the public need for regular, undisrupted elections.
"The strong public interest in having elections go forward generally weighs heavily against an injunction that would postpone an upcoming election," U.S. District Judges Margaret M. Morrow and Christina A. Snyder and Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a decision dated Monday. According to a lawsuit MALDEF filed last month, the Legislature removed thousands of Latino voters from the district represented by Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills) and placed them in a neighboring district represented by Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).
In addition, Berman's district was extended south into predominantly white areas of the Hollywood Hills and Sherman's district was moved north and wrapped around Berman's, to include many Latinos living in Sylmar and other areas.
MALDEF contends that the Legislature should have created a Latino district from the population now divided between Berman and Sherman.
During arguments before the judges last week, a MALDEF lawyer said the districts were reconfigured solely to spare Berman from having to face a Latino opponent in the March primary. Under the new reapportionment plan, which is valid for 10 years, Latino voter representation in Berman's district drops from 45% to 31%, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also challenges the shifting of Latino voters between the districts represented by Reps. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) and Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego). And it challenges the redrawing of boundaries to protect the seat held by state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach).
Lawyers for Gov. Gray Davis and the state Senate told the judges last week that any delay in the March primary elections would create havoc, confuse voters and waste millions of taxpayer dollars.
Jonathan Steinberg, the Senate's lawyer, said Tuesday that the redistricting plan is fair.
Despite their decision, the judges said MALDEF's arguments presented "serious questions to make the case a fair ground for litigation."
"Plaintiffs' allegations raise challenging and perhaps unique issues regarding the application of voting rights laws in a region with a population that is both rapidly changing and multiethnic," the judges wrote.
MALDEF representatives said they would pursue another hearing to prove the voting power of Latinos is being diluted.
"MALDEF is confident that we can demonstrate that the current districts will effectively suppress the political voice of thousands of Latinos for the next 10 years," said Antonia Hernandez, the group's president and general counsel.
Los Angeles Times
Judges Asked to Postpone Voting in 4 House Districts
By David Rosenzweig
November 1, 2001
A panel of federal judges in Los Angeles heard arguments Wednesday over whether to postpone primary elections in four California congressional districts because of a lawsuit challenging the state's recently enacted redistricting plan.
The special three-judge panel promised a swift decision on a request by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for a temporary restraining order that would block the four primaries from taking place as scheduled in March.
Lawyers for Gov. Gray Davis and the state Senate argued that any delay would create havoc, confuse voters and waste millions of taxpayer dollars. "It would make Bush versus Gore look like child's play," said the Senate's lawyer, Jonathan Steinberg, referring to the legal chaos that followed the 2000 presidential election.
But MALDEF attorney Thomas A. Saenz argued that failure to halt the elections would cause irreparable harm to voters in the affected districts.
The first filing deadline for candidates in the March primaries is just a week away, he noted.
U.S. District Judges Margaret M. Morrow and Christina A. Snyder, joined by Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, gave no indication of how they might rule.
Two of the four congressional districts are in the San Fernando Valley which, like many other parts of California, has seen a dramatic increase in registered Latino voters.
According to MALDEF's lawsuit filed a month ago, the Legislature removed thousands of Latino voters from the district represented by Howard L. Berman (D-Mission Hills) and placed them in a neighboring district represented by Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks).
Berman's district was also extended southward into the Hollywood Hills, while Sherman's district was moved north and wrapped around Berman's, picking up many Latinos living in Sylmar and nearby areas.
MALDEF contends that the Legislature should have carved out a distinctly Latino district from the Latino population core now split between Berman and Sherman.
Saenz told the judges that the districts were reconfigured solely to spare Berman from having to face a Latino opponent in the March primary as he did in 1998 when he beat back a challenge by Democrat Raul Godinez II. Under the new reapportionment plan that is valid for 10 years, Latino voter representation in Berman's district drops from 45% to 31%, according to the lawsuit.
MALDEF is also challenging the shifting of Latino voters between the districts represented by Reps. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) and Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego). In that case, MALDEF argues that the Latino vote was unjustifiably diluted.
Steinberg, the state Senate's lawyer, argued Wednesday that the new congressional boundaries in San Diego gave Latino voters more influence than they would have received under a MALDEF plan.
He acknowledged that the Legislature's overall goal was to protect incumbents, but he said that does not mean the lawmakers intended to discriminate against Latinos. Sixteen of 19 Latino members in the Assembly and all seven Latino state senators voted for the plan, which was signed into law by Davis on Sept. 27.
Steinberg noted that many of those Latino legislators were elected from districts where Latinos constitute a minority. "This is California," he said, "not the Deep South of the 1960s."
Joining Steinberg in opposing a temporary restraining order was Louis Mauro, a deputy state attorney general appearing on behalf of the Davis administration.
Mauro urged the federal judges not to act pending the outcome of three related redistricting lawsuits before the California Supreme Court.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated in previous cases that states should be given preference in resolving redistricting disputes.
If either court throws out all or parts of the new redistricting plan, the Legislature will have to draft a new one. The MALDEF lawsuit also challenges the redrawing of boundaries to protect the seat held by state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach).
Los Angeles Times
MALDEF's Lawsuit Is Racially Divisive
By Martha Escutia and Gloria Romero
November 1, 2001
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's lawsuit challenging the recently redrawn boundaries for congressional and state Senate seats is frivolous and racially divisive.
The lawsuit seeks to overturn a bipartisan redistricting plan that took special care to respect the rights of minorities.
Thirteen seats (seven state Senators; six members of Congress) currently held by Latinos are maintained or strengthened, and a new heavily Latino congressional district is created in Los Angeles County. In addition, voters in two state Senate districts (and possibly three) held by white term-limited senators will, in all likelihood because of increased Latino and Democratic voting strength, elect Latinos in 2002. Why would MALDEF complain about this? The organization disputes only three (out of 93) districts: a San Diego congressional seat that MALDEF explicitly endorsed in a letter to legislators, a state Senate seat that MALDEF representatives verbally approved and the San Fernando Valley district of Rep. Howard Berman.
MALDEF claims that Berman's 55.6% Latino district is not "Latino enough." But the voters in the new Berman district have demonstrated a willingness to support progressive candidates of any race. Residents in the areas that comprise the new district voted for Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor and for Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in the recent Los Angeles city election and voted overwhelmingly for Cruz Bustamante for lieutenant governor.
More and more, California is reaping the benefits of multiracial coalitions. The voice of Latinos in California is stronger because electoral politics and issues are no longer just about race.
The elections of State Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) in non-Latino areas demonstrate that a strong Latino candidate need not have a district packed with Latino votes.
Issues of concern to Latinos--whether access to health care, better schools, better jobs or cleaner air--are not just Latino issues. They affect everyone and can be voiced by any legislator responsive to his or her constituents' needs.
Of the state's 26 Latino legislators--elected representatives of Latinos and non-Latinos alike--23 voted for the redistricting plan.
MALDEF submitted its own redistricting plan to the Legislature. The plan was found lacking in how it dealt with both Latinos and non-Latinos.
It jeopardized the congressional seats of many female elected officials.
MALDEF's state Senate proposal diluted the districts of several Latina legislators and cut one out of her own district, pitting her against another Latino.
This move could have reduced the number of Latina legislators.
MALDEF fixates on numbers, ignoring the advances in the redistricting plan.
By strengthening the Latino districts and locking in the Democratic majority in the state Senate and congressional delegation, our legislators can continue to lead the fight on issues such as immigrant rights, consumer protection and advancements for farm workers.
In the era of term limits, Latinos need not limit themselves to only seeking office in "safe" Latino districts. We should not relegate ourselves to only a few court-imposed barrios.
Our success lies in proclaiming that the Latino agenda is (and should be) the American agenda. No one holds a monopoly on this message.
But, ultimately, we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way--they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old-fashioned way: by earning them.
Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) represents the 30th District, and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) represents the 24th District in the state Senate.
Charges Mount in Remap Lawsuit
By Laura Mecoy
October 31, 2001
A Democratic redistricting consultant threatened to create an even tougher district for Rep. Brad Sherman to win if the Sherman Oaks congressman complained about his party's redistricting plan, according to a declaration filed in a lawsuit set for a hearing today.
A three-judge panel is scheduled to hear arguments today over the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's request to postpone the March 5 primary elections until the courts decide the organization's challenge to portions of California's new district lines.
MALDEF claims the new boundaries protect incumbents and dilute Latino numbers in two districts. Gov. Gray Davis and legislative leaders have defended them as fair.
Two of the declarations filed by MALDEF claim Democratic redistricting consultant Michael Berman sought to ensure the re-election of his brother, Rep. Howard Berman, by drawing new boundary lines that limited the number of Latino voters in his district.
Xavier Flores, the executive director of the San Fernando Valley organization Pueblo y Salud, said Sherman expressed his anger about the new boundaries in two phone conversations with Flores.
But Flores said Sherman called himself a "coward" and said he wouldn't testify against the new boundaries.
Flores said Sherman told him that Michael Berman had threatened to draw an "even worse district by adding more Latino voters" if the congressman "did not fall into line."
Mike Gatto, Sherman's political director, said he was present during one of the phone conversations and never heard the congressman make such claims.
He said Sherman was upset about the first draft of the redistricting plan but wouldn't have made the uncautious statements Flores attributed to him.
In another declaration filed by MALDEF, Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, said Michael Berman told him that he wanted to ensure his brother's re-election by limiting the number of Latinos in Howard Berman's new district.
"Michael Berman stated, 'We don't want Howard working on district maintenance at home when he could be frying better fish in D.C.,' " Gonzalez said in his declaration.
Another declaration, previously reported in The Bee, quoted Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, as saying Michael Berman diluted the Latino vote in a San Diego congressional district to help re-elect a white incumbent who had paid him $20,000.
The incumbent, Rep. Bob Filner, has denied the claim.
Neither Michael nor Howard Berman commented on the declarations.
But Jonathan Steinberg, an attorney representing the state Senate in the court challenge, called the declarations "pure fiction."
"It's more something one would expect from (movie producer) Oliver Stone than from an organization like MALDEF," Steinberg said.
He said Howard Berman has an "extraordinary record" with Latinos and had no reason to fear an increase in the number of Latino voters in his district.
Steinberg said Howard Berman wanted his district lines shifted to reflect the areas he'd represented for many years, before a previous redistricting plan dramatically altered the boundaries of his congressional district.
Steinberg pointed out that 23 of California's 26 Latino lawmakers voted in favor of the redistricting plan. He also said the new districts strengthen Latino incumbents and open the door for more Latinos to be elected.
The Bee's Laura Mecoy can be reached at (310) 546-5860 or [email protected]
Gerrymandering Lawsuit In Calif.
By Leon Drouin Keith
October 31, 2001
Lawyers for a civil-rights group argued Wednesday before a three-judge panel to quickly scuttle four upcoming primary elections in congressional districts it claims were drawn up with an eye toward keeping Hispanics out of office.
In arguing against the request for a temporary restraining order, attorneys for state officials contended the redistricting completed last month does not dilute Hispanics' political clout, but that redrawing boundaries and postponing the March voting would create electoral chaos.
The lawsuit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of 24 registered voters. It alleges that Democratic legislators drew congressional districts in Los Angeles and San Diego counties to protect white incumbent Reps. Howard Berman, Bob Filner, and Brad Sherman from potential Hispanic challengers.
Berman's brother, political consultant Michael Berman, was the chief architect of the congressional plan.
``There was no partisan reason for the lines to be drawn the way they were,'' MALDEF attorney Thomas A. Saenz said. He contends legislators didn't want Hispanics ``to have a strong enough vote that could raise a successful primary candidate and oust the incumbent.''
MALDEF attorneys are seeking an immediate order barring the congressional primary elections. The federal judges said they would reach a decision as soon as possible.
The lawsuit also calls for state Senate district lines to be redrawn in southeast Los Angeles County, but Saenz said that change did not need to be part of the temporary restraining order because the district mainly at issue is not up for re-election until 2004.
Lawmakers are required to draw new districts every 10 years to reflect population changes found in the census.
The lawsuit was filed four days after Gov. Gray Davis signed the new boundaries into law Sept. 27. On Nov. 7, candidates are supposed to be able to begin turning in petitions to get on the primary ballot.
Lawyers for state officials said calling for new boundaries in four districts could lead the Legislature to repeat the process across the state.
``The only irreparable harm caused here it the one that would be caused by the issuance of a temporary restraining order,'' said Jonathan H. Steinberg, representing the state Senate and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. ``It would plunge the state in a situation that would make Bush versus Gore - which is a case I'm not supposed to cite - would make it look like child's play.''
Steinberg said Hispanics in the four congressional districts will have considerable clout, even if those eligible to vote don't form a majority in any of them.
``I don't think there's constitutional or legal harm if someone's making it a fair district, but not a slam-dunk district,'' Steinberg said.
A Political Fight to Define the Future
By Thomas B. Edsall
October 31, 2001
Once a bastion of the Republican right, Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley has become a battleground in the struggle to shape the Democratic Party and the civil rights movement at the start of the 21st century.
The focal point of the debate is a lawsuit filed by a Latino voters rights group to challenge the first congressional redistricting of the century. The suit, adopting a strategy that was developed for black voters in the segregated South a generation ago, contends that two congressional districts created by the state legislature would dilute Latino voting power and ensure the reelection of Anglo incumbents.
But with the Latino community on the verge of becoming the majority in Los Angeles and already a decisive force in state politics, the case has spawned a rash of criticism from Latino political and labor leaders, who are asking whether minority power is better served by electing the highest possible number of minority officeholders or by negotiating agreements with other groups, including whites.
Most prominently, the lawsuit pits Rep. Howard L. Berman, a 10-term liberal Anglo Democrat who has pioneered legislation protecting farm workers and liberalizing immigration, against the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Latino counterpart to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Berman's old congressional district was roughly 65 percent Hispanic, and he was reelected throughout the 1990s by strong margins, easily defeating one Latino challenger, among others. The legislature has approved a San Fernando Valley district for Berman that has a 56.6 percent Hispanic population majority, although Hispanics are a voting minority.
Berman's district and one that would be represented by Rep. Bob Filner, an Anglo Democrat in San Diego, "were drawn with the intent of discriminating against Latino voters and of preventing the Latino community from exercising electoral power," according to the MALDEF suit.
Twenty-three of 26 Latino state legislators voted for the plan, but Maria Blanco, senior national attorney for MALDEF, contends that they were, in effect, co-conspirators, driven by pressures to protect their positions as incumbents. "If some voters had to fall by the wayside, so be it, that was the trade-off, and that included Latino legislators," Blanco said.
MALDEF's accusations have infuriated not only Berman but also many Latino leaders.
"It is a dishonor to the Latino representatives who serve in Sacramento [the state capital] for MALDEF to say they participated in intentional racial discrimination . . . [that] California's Latino elected officials participated in a plan to cancel out Latino votes, or that they are somehow less capable than unelected private groups like MALDEF of protecting the interests of their Latino constituents," state Sen. Don Perata said in a sworn declaration to the court in support of the plan designed to ensure Berman's reelection.
This clash of major forces within the local liberal coalition is driven by the Hispanic ascendancy in the region.
In Los Angeles as a whole, the proportion of Latinos in the population has almost tripled, from 18.5 percent in 1970 to 46.5 percent in 2000, and the percentage of Asians has grown from 3.7 to 9.9 percent. African Americans have declined from 17.3 percent of the population to 10.9 percent, but the falloff has been sharpest for whites, who went from 60.1 to 29.7 percent.
The San Fernando Valley, in the northwestern section of the city, began the same three-decade period as a white stronghold. Court-ordered school busing and rapidly rising property tax assessments in the middle-class, home-owning region turned the valley into a hotbed of defensive white conservatism. It became a center -- some say the birthplace -- of the tax revolt that produced the anti-tax initiative Proposition 13 in 1978, which helped propel Ronald Reagan into the presidency. In 1980, a leader of a valley anti-busing group, Bobbi Fiedler, won election to Congress as a Republican.
In just two decades, however, Latinos, Asian Americans and liberal whites crossed the mountains to the south and west and replaced the angry and resentful electorate that had dominated the valley. It now is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse and politically complex areas in the nation.
The proportion of valley residents who are Latino grew from 11.6 percent in 1970 to 38 percent in 2000; the percentage of Asians went from 1 to 9.7 percent. Blacks increased their share of the valley population from 1.7 to 4.9 percent. But the valley's white population is no longer the majority: It dropped from 85.3 to 47 percent.
The most deeply felt issues throughout Los Angeles now involve the distribution of political power to control public spending and the allocation of the tax burden. These fights are almost entirely among Democratic constituencies competing for resources, revenue and services. Redistricting, in this context, is more urgent than it might otherwise be.
"There are racial implications to practically every decision we make, like it or not," said Zev Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles County supervisor who has held public office in the city for nearly 30 years.
With MALDEF's redistricting suit now before a three-judge panel in federal court, one of the fundamental strategic conflicts within the Latino community centers on questions about the pursuit of power:
Are Latinos better represented by an Anglo congressman who has championed their issues, or by a freshman Hispanic? And are the community's interests best advanced by electing as many Latinos as possible through the creation of voting districts with substantial Latino majorities -- the civil rights strategy first implemented in the 1960s -- or by cooperating with other ethnic allies and developing the ability to win in districts in which Latinos are the minority?
MALDEF's Blanco contends that the strategy of seeking Latino-majority districts has been crucial. The Latino politicians who are attacking MALDEF "would not be in Sacramento if MALDEF had not taken the position 30 years ago," she said.
State Sens. Marta Escutia and Gloria Romero counter that that approach is no longer the most effective. Writing in support of the Berman plan, they said: "We should not relegate ourselves to only a few court-imposed barrios."
The two state senators cited the election of Latinos in two districts in which Latino voters were in the minority to argue that "the voice of Latinos in California is stronger because electoral politics and issues are no longer just about race. . . . Our success lies in reaching all Californians and loudly proclaiming that the Latino agenda is [and should be] the American agenda."
In papers filed with the court, former Assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa took issue with MALDEF's assertion that the new Berman district discriminates against Latinos. He pointed out that in the mayoral race earlier this year, he defeated his white opponent, James Hahn, in the new Berman district with 58 percent of the vote, although Hahn was elected mayor in a runoff. "I do not believe there exists a bloc or multiple blocs of voters in [the district] who would systematically vote together to defeat a Latino candidate," Villaraigosa wrote.
Perata said Latinos comprised 16 percent of the electorate statewide but held 22.5 percent of the state Senate seats and 23.7 percent of the Assembly seats, so that "Latino representation in California should be cause for celebration rather than litigation."
Blanco countered that the issue in the suit is not statewide Latino representation, but the treatment of Latino voters in the two congressional districts in question.
In a fight that is escalating daily, Miguel Contreras, secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, attacked the voting rights group: "MALDEF doesn't walk precincts. They don't get out the vote. They do it all on numbers."
Arguing that non-Hispanics can adequately defend Hispanic interests, Contreras said, "Howard Berman has been great on Latino matters, a real leader. It is good to have someone who is not Latino champion Latino issues. MALDEF has done good work in the past, but here they are out of date."
Good Old Boys Dis Women, Latinos
By Tony Quinn
October 28, 2001
Thanks to term limits and the court-ordered 1991 redistricting, there are more women and minority group members in the California Legislature than ever before, and the vast majority of them are Democrats. Twenty-three of the 50 Democratic Assembly members are non-white, and nine of the 26 Senate Democrats. Thirty of the 76 Democratic legislators are women.
So it comes as quite a surprise that when Democratic leaders used the 2001 redistricting process to distribute the spoils of recent Democratic election victories, Democratic women and minorities got such a meager portion.
In redistricting, legislators draw their own districts; the politicians choose the voters rather than the other way around. It is the most political process there is, and it can make and break careers. This decade's exercise, a bipartisan plan that gives safe seats to both parties, proved that the Old Boy network still dominates the Democratic party despite the large number of woman and minority legislators.
The Democrats had complete control of the process, with Democratic majorities in both houses and a pliant Democratic governor to sign their redistricting schemes. But the big losers turned out not to be Republicans, but Democrats out of favor with the male-dominated leadership.
Three prominent Democratic Assemblywomen hoping to advance to the state Senate won't. Assemblywoman Helen Thomson of Davis saw her hopes for a Senate seat vanish when Democratic line drawers made the seat she wanted safely Republican (for a male Republican) and put her hometown in the district of a fellow Democrat, Sen. Mike Machado.
Democratic Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara was even more unlucky. All the Democrats had to do was leave alone the Senate seat currently occupied by retiring Democratic Sen. Jack O'Connell and Jackson would have succeeded to it. (The seat has been held by Democrats for 25 years.) Instead, they went to great lengths to make sure Jackson does not have a Senate seat, cutting the old O'Connell district in two, and giving its number to a new Republican seat in the Central Valley. Jackson can serve out the remaining two years of her Assembly term and then go into a different line of work.
The same is true for Fresno Democratic Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes. Her hopes for a Senate seat were dashed when the leadership drew the district for Assemblyman Dean Florez.
In Congress, a supposed rising star among Democrats, Rep. Ellen Tauscher of Contra Costa, saw her current district dismembered and some of her wealthiest neighborhoods shifted to a Republican, while she got a load of new Democrats far from her base.
Why were the women treated so badly?
In Tauscher's case, it was her rather moderate voting record and refusal to back San Francisco Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House whip, the second-ranking job in the Democratic leadership. Tauscher had defeated an out-of-touch right-wing GOP congressman in 1996 and carefully crafted an image as a moderate Democrat -- too moderate, it turns out, for Senate President Pro tem John Burton, a close ally of Pelosi.
But more central to the Democratic women's problem is the fact that the Democratic party is male dominated and intends to stay that way, especially when it comes to divvying up the spoils of power. No women served on the six-member committee that approved the redistricting bills, and no woman was a player in the closed-doors meetings where the plans were hatched.
Privately, the woman Democrats admit they made a big mistake not being more personally involved, because there was no one to look after their interests when the major decisions were made. While not all women Democrats were treated badly, everyone who came into conflict with a male colleague ended up on the losing side.
Assemblywoman Jackson, for instance, had a nasty row in her caucus with veteran Democratic Assemblyman Lou Papan over legislation she authored that he opposed. Papan and other Democrats found her too pushy. The Old Boy network saw to it that Papan got the seat he wanted. But one cannot really accuse Papan of being anti-woman, since his goal in life is to have his daughter, Gina Papan, succeed him in the Assembly.
Although minority Democrats did fine in the legislative districts -- at least all of them got good districts -- their big loss occurred at the congressional level where the needs of white Democrats clashed with California's demographic trends.
The Southern California Democratic electorate has become dramatically more Latino over the past decade, and much less white (and to some degree less African American). Under term limits, this change has been reflected in the Legislature, as Latinos have been elected to replace senior white legislators when their terms ran out. (One of the major benefits of term limits is that they create a political body actually reflective of the populace.) But there are no term limits in Congress, so longtime white Democrats are still holding office in heavily Latino areas.
The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit in federal court over this very issue. To save favored white Democrats from potential Latino primary challenges, Democratic map drawers had to dilute the Latino populations. MALDEF's suit claims dilution of Latinos occurred in three areas, but the most egregious example it cites is the San Fernando Valley district of Rep. Howard Berman, where the Latino population was diluted by 11 percent.
The drawing of the Berman seat is Old Boy Democratic politics at its extreme. The state's Democratic House members tithed themselves $20,000 each to hire redistricting expert Michael Berman, who just happens to be the brother of Rep. Howard Berman, to draw the districts. He reported to a close Berman ally, Oakland Democratic Sen. Don Perata, and through him to Burton, whose brother, the late Rep. Phil Burton, was the author of California's last great redistricting gerrymander in 1981, the one that sent Howard Berman to Congress in the first place.
Where were the Republicans? They were bought off with safe seats for incumbents, and ended up falling in love with the Democrats' handiwork. While women and minority Democrats suffered, the tiny number of Republican women and minority members in the Legislature did quite well. All GOP women got good seats. The three returning Latino Republicans did even better: Assemblyman Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria got a new Senate seat drawn for him, Assemblyman Bob Pacheco of Walnut got a dream district, and GOP Assemblywoman Charlene Zettel found a surprise open Senate seat in her San Diego neighborhood.
The Democratic leadership's reply to complaints from their own allies among women and minorities is Godfather-like: It was only business. But if it was business, it was strange business for a party that relies on the support of women and minority voters to stay in power.
Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of California legislative and congressional districts, served on the Republican redistricting staff in 1971 and 1981.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Vargas, Filner Set to Battle in Court
By Bill Ainsworth
October 26, 2001
The feud between two San Diego Democrats, Assemblyman Juan Vargas and Rep. Bob Filner, has taken center stage in a lawsuit that seeks to throw out three new political districts. The suit contends Filner's new district and two others illegally reduce the power of Latinos.
Vargas, who has run twice for Filner's seat, states in a court declaration that the Democratic consultant who drew the district lines admitted diluting the Latino vote in Filner's new congressional district to protect the incumbent.
The reason: Filner and all the other California Democrats in Congress each paid the consultant, Michael Berman, $20,000.
"I have a fiduciary responsibility to Filner to draw a district where he won't lose to you or a Hispanic in the primary," Berman said, according to Vargas.
Vargas said Berman told him "we have to divide Hispanics; Filner won't survive otherwise. And you just want to see him die a slow death."
Vargas' account provides a rare glimpse into the personal, ethnic and legal disputes that are often part of the secretive process of drawing new political boundaries. All the legislative and congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect the new census.
Latinos, who increasingly vote Democrat, represent 80 percent of California's growth over the past decade, the lawsuit states. Their numbers have increased by 3.3 million.
State Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, the Legislator's lead redistricting negotiator, said the Vargas-Filner dispute is personal.
"This was a death fight cloaked in ethnic and high-minded concerns. It's a blood feud," he said.
Vargas' declaration is key evidence in a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which argues that the redistricting plan signed by the governor violates the Voting Rights Act by excluding minorities in three districts.
"Michael Berman was moving Latino voters out of these districts to protect white incumbents," said Denise Hulett, an attorney for MALDEF.
The suit charges that Berman's plan, approved by the Legislature, excluded heavily Latino neighborhoods in San Diego from Filner's new seat, including Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Golden Hill and City Heights. Berman did this, according to the suit, "in order to prevent the district from attaining a Latino population level that might threaten the incumbent."
The suit also says Berman split a Latino community in Los Angeles to protect his brother, Rep. Howard Berman, and did the same thing to prevent a Latino from getting a state Senate seat in Los Angeles County.
A panel of three federal judges will hear the MALDEF lawsuit Wednesday to decide whether to redraw the three disputed districts.
Perata disputes MALDEF's contention, saying legislators tried to draw up a fair, bipartisan plan that protected incumbents, not ethnic groups.
Filner said he doesn't believe Vargas' account.
"It couldn't possibly be true," said Filner, adding that he doesn't fear representing a district with a large percentage of Latinos.
Filner was not at the meetings Vargas cited.
Berman did not return phone calls seeking comment. Neither did Vargas.
Filner said he has represented heavily minority districts for 20 years, including when he was on the San Diego school board and City Council. The new district, he said, is 53 percent Latino.
"Juan Vargas is still upset that he couldn't get Latino supporters when he ran against me. He'll say or do anything," Filner said.
Filner said Vargas' declaration doesn't represent a larger conflict.
"It's all about him. There's nothing broader," he said.
Earlier this year, Perata said legislators redrew Filner's new district to make it more heavily Latino at Vargas' request. They did so by giving Filner heavily Latino Imperial County. Filner's current district is numbered the 50th. The new district will be the 51st.
Vargas, in his declaration, said the Assembly came up with an alternative plan that included Imperial County and the four Latino neighborhoods in San Diego.
But Vargas said Berman told him Filner wouldn't accept the Assembly alternative because it had too many Latinos. "He can't win the primary. I'd have to give him his $20,000 back," Berman said, according to Vargas.
Other Democrats in California's congressional delegation have confirmed that they paid Berman $20,000 to draw districts that would assure their easy re-election.
San Diego Union-Tribune
Redistricting Plan Hurts California Voters
By Roy Ulrich and Steven Hill
October 24, 2001
Earlier this month, the Legislature adopted a bipartisan redistricting plan that was quickly signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis. By and large, it was designed as an incumbent protection plan to prevent a protracted and costly battle in court between the major parties and before the voters (by way of a referendum).
The deal was this: Democrats agreed to maintain the current balance of state and federal representatives in exchange for the GOP's promise not to challenge the plan in court or at the ballot box. The irony is that the long-term result will be more partisanship and gridlock on the many other issues confronting lawmakers on a day-to-day basis.
How bipartisan was it? Of the 173 politicians we elect by district that we send to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., there will be just three elected representatives who come from "competitive" districts. The rest will come from districts where the winner of the general election will be known the day after the primary election.
And when the result of an election is preordained, voter turnout is depressed. Two studies of House elections conducted by the Center for Voting and Democracy show that turnout declinesˇby as much as 19 percentˇas races become less competitive.
Just what do we mean by "competitive?" Any district where the point spread separating registered Republicans from registered Democrats is 5 percent or less. Using that formula, there are now two competitive seats in the Assembly, one competitive seat in the state Senate, and no competitive seats in the House. By way of comparison, in 1990ˇwhen the California Supreme Court appointed a special master to draw the district lines after the politicians couldn't come to an agreement -- there were five competitive House seats, eight competitive Assembly seats and five competitive Senate seats.
Why is it that the most conservative and most liberal candidates tend to have an advantage in primary elections?
First, primaries tend to attract the diehard voters from both parties. Add to the mix the fact that most state and local party officials tend to be highly partisan.
The result is that moderates from both parties are in very short supply in Sacramento and on Capitol Hill. There are precious few men or women capable of bringing the warring factions together.
When ideologues from either side of the aisle are elected, gridlock generally ensues. Negotiations leading to compromise become difficult to forge on a host of issues ranging from health care to gun control. And on subjects such as abortion and the death penalty, the difficult becomes impossible.
Geographically speaking, just where are these moderates likely to come from? The obvious answer is that they will come from areas of the state where there are a mix of liberals and conservatives living in the same locale. Not surprisingly, that is the exception, not the rule.
"Orphaned" voters such as Republicans from San Francisco or Democrats from Orange County have no one to represent their interests in Sacramento or Washington. For a nation founded on the slogan of "no taxation without representation," it is alarming how many Californians have no real choice as to who represents them.
To limit the twin evils of unrepresented voters and legislative gridlock, two solutions are most often discussed.
The first is to allow redistricting to be done by an independent commission and to add competitiveness to the list of standard redistricting criteria the commission must use in drawing up a plan.
The second is to make legislative districts multimember; that is, to at least double the size of current districts and elect more than one representative from each district.
Redistricting has always been a process by which legislators choose their voters before their voters choose them. But what happened this year in Sacramento in the name of bipartisanship was nothing short of a diminution of democracy.
Ulrich is a member of the board of directors of California Common Cause. Hill is the western regional director of the Center for Voting and Democracy.
Remap Bias Lawsuit Gets More Heated: A lawmaker alleges a consultant diluted one district's Latino vote for a price
By Aurelio Rojas
October 24, 2001
A Democratic consultant in charge of drawing California's new congressional boundaries diluted the Latino vote in one district because the white incumbent paid him $20,000, a state lawmaker has alleged in court documents.
Assemblyman Juan Vargas, a San Diego Democrat who has twice run against the Democratic congressman, Bob Filner, said that consultant Michael Berman told him "that every Democratic member of Congress was supposed to pay him $20,000" and those who did not "might not like their districts."
"Michael Berman told me, 'I have a fiduciary responsibility to Filner to draw a district where he won't lose to you or a Hispanic in the primary,' " Vargas said. Otherwise, Vargas said Berman told him, "I'd have to give (Filner) his money back."
Vargas' allegation was contained in a declaration filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles as part of a voting rights lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. While Berman's fees have been disclosed in the past, Vargas' declaration provides a rare behind-the-scenes account of the once-a-decade redistricting process MALDEF is challenging.
Vargas and Berman were not available for comment Tuesday. But in an interview, Filner said: "Berman told me that (Vargas') declaration was false."
Filner noted Latinos still account for 53 percent of the voting age population in his new 51st Congressional District. And he said he has a 20-year history of winning elections in majority Latino districts, including his two races against Vargas.
"He's still upset that I had Latinos supporting me," Filner said. "He'll say or do anything."
In his declaration, Vargas said that during a meeting last month with members of the Legislature's redistricting conference committee, Berman told him: "We have to divide Hispanics; Filner won't survive otherwise."
The MALDEF suit alleges mapmakers left out four heavily Latino communities to ensure Filner's re-election.
Voting rights laws prohibit mapmakers from "deliberately choosing to exclude or include voters based on their ethnicity" to influence election outcomes, said Denise Hulett, the lead attorney in the MALDEF suit.
"This was one of the most blatant cases of intentional discrimination that I have ever seen," Hulett said in an interview.
The voting rights suit also challenges two congressional districts in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The 26th Congressional District has been held for years by Berman's brother, Howard Berman, D-Mission Hills, while Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, represents the 27th Congressional District.
Howard Berman's district was moved into predominantly white areas of the Hollywood Hills, while thousands of Latino voters from his old district were shifted into Sherman's new district, which MALDEF contends weakened Latinos' influence.
The suit also alleges additional state Senate districts could have been drawn in southeast Los Angeles County to give Latinos an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Three federal judges were selected last week to hear the suit: Margaret Morrow, Christina Snyder and Stephen Reinhardt. MALDEF is asking the panel to issue a temporary restraining order that could delay next year's primary elections, now scheduled for March 5.
But Hulett said the judges could conceivably allow primaries in all but the districts that are being contested, and schedule special elections in those districts after the suit is litigated.
Latinos accounted for more than 80 percent of the population growth in California during the 1990s. But the suit alleges they remain severely underrepresented in the state's congressional delegation and the state Senate.
According to the suit, Latinos have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in only nine of the state's 53 congressional districts and seven of the state Senate's 40 districts.
State Sen. Don Perata, D-Alameda, who as chairman of the Senate redistricting committee shepherded the congressional maps through the Legislature, has called the suit "ridiculous." He noted 23 of the 26 Latino legislators voted for the redistricting plans.
But the suit alleges the boundaries approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis protect incumbents at the expense of Latino voters.