California GOP 'likely' to challenge new political districts at the ballot

Preliminary final congressional maps
Preliminary final congressional maps California Citizens Redistricting Commission

The California Republican Party is busy getting its signature collecting machine up and running because it's upset about the new legislative district maps from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Those maps could give Democrats a tighter grip in the state legislature, and the Republicans are planning to ask the voters to stop it.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s final draft of legislative districts could cut the number of Republicans seats in Congress and in the state legislature. The state Republican Party has been debating whether to challenge the new political maps.

Chairman Tom Del Beccaro says the debate’s nearly over.

"It’s becoming ever more likely that we we're going to make a final decision in favor of doing a referendum at least in connection with the senate maps," Del Becarro says.

The new Senate district are likely to give Senate Democrats a two-thirds majority, and with that, the ability to raise taxes without Republican votes. Del Beccaro says the new districts defy logic and thwart democracy.

"The basic goal of redistricting has been and should have been that two Assembly districts would be nestled in the same Senate district, and the maps should have kept cities and counties as close together and compact as possible. They failed to do that throughout the state California," Del Beccaro insists.

But that doesn’t mean the redistricting commission didn’t follow state or federal law, or that the voters care to toss out the commission’s work. The commission votes to ratify the new districts on Aug. 15. If it does, Del Beccaro says bright and early on Aug. 16 the California Republican Party may file a referendum to get rid of the new maps.

What happens then?

If a referendum challenging the citizens commission map collects enough signatures by November, the process is frozen and the California Supreme Court steps in. GOP strategist Tony Quinn says the justices have two options: "They could appoint a court master, they have enough time to draw a temporary plan for 2012. Or they could just leave the current districts in place."

The GOP prefers the latter. The citizens commission map for Congressional districts puts half a dozen Republican seats in danger.

But one redistricting expert, Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt, says there’s a third possibility for the court: "I think by far the most likely option is the new commission’s lines will be used temporarily pending the results of the referendum."

In other words, use the maps drawn by the citizens commission for the 2012 election until California voters cast ballots on the GOP referendum. Levitt says it takes only 5 percent of the state’s voters to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

"It’d be silly to assume that 5 percent of the public gives us an answer on what a majority of the public really wants," he said.

But UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein cautions that when the citizens commission was challenged as “unelected and unrepresentative,” supporters defended it by “asserting the people’s right of referendum.”

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