Redistricting – the complicated but hugely significant task of redrawing voting district lines – will come to a close this Friday. That's when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission releases its final district maps.
Californians voted in 2008 to take the redistricting responsibility out of the hands of elected representatives and give it to an 8-member citizens commission. In theory, the goal was to bring the process closer to the people and incorporate citizens’ input. In practice, citizens’ interest groups are complaining they’re being left out of the process after the commission cancelled plans for a second draft of the redrawn maps and postponed the release of the final map by a day.
In addition to the new citizens' commission, this is first time in California's history that the state is not gaining any new Congressional seats, leaving is with 53 districts. That makes the political stakes even higher.
“We’re prepared for hearing a lot of the response we’ve already been hearing all along," said Redistricting Commissioner Jeanne Raya, who spoke with KPCC's Patt Morrison. She acknowledged that some interest groups have raised concerns, but said the commission expected that.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies told Patt that the process has been fairly transparent and "the public should be pleased so far."
“The most important thing is that the legislators have not been drawing their own lines, they have not been picking their own voters," he said. “Of course we won’t know until there’s final maps and we hear the screams from the incumbents and political parties who feel burned by it," he added. "We have to see the final maps and if there are some groups who are really disenfranchised.”
Eugene Lee, voting rights project director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), told Patt that APALC is looking at the maps on a region-by-region basis and they like what they're seeing in the West San Gabriel Valley.
"There's definitely some improvements from 2001. There are a number of cities that are majority Asian-American and we know there are patterns of racially polarized voting and Asian American voters vote cohesively and non-Asian Americans vote against those voting preferences and in that particular set of circumstances, we believe that the Voting Rights Act actually requires the drawing of a majority Asian-American Assembly district in the West San Gabriel Valley and the commission did do that, so we're happy with that."
Still, Lee raised other concerns over examples of splitting the Asian-American vote. "In Orange County on the Congressional level, we are concerned about the split of the Little Saigon area between two Congressional districts, with the heart of Little Saigon drawn into a district that goes down to Laguna Niguel, including coastal areas. We think that is not a good match from a community of interest perspective."
Latino and African American groups have also raised concerns of racial segregation over a previous map drafted by the commission that proposed redrawing the 33rd Congressional District in South LA in such a way that would have cut out key African-American and Latino neighborhoods and created a white-majority district.
Activists claimed such a move would reduce the political power and representation of communities of color, both in Congress and in the State Legislature. After some pushback, the redistricting commission voted on Sunday to keep District 33 nearly intact.
“We definitely breathed a sigh of relief after Sunday night’s debate on South Los Angeles,” said Erica Teasley Linnick, coordinator with the African American Redistricting Collaborative and former Western Regional Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).
?The current make up of California’s 33rd Congressional District is 34.6% Hispanic, 29.9 % African-American, 19.9% White and 12.1% Asian. Democrat Karen Bass is the area’s Representative.
Patt asked Linnick to respond to a blog comment from Mike in Orange:
"Oh here we go again. Some special interest groups don't like what seems to be an improved process so let's just sue the government yet again !! When are these people going to learn to mix within our society so we are a true multicultural mix and stop inflaming racial division ?"
"I think those are interesting comments," said Linnick. She stressed that, for her organization, this redistricting process is about making sure the commission acts in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. "It says that minority groups--racial and language minority groups--need to have an opportunity to elect candidates of choice. There shouldn't be anything that gets in their way of being able to go to the polls and cast their vote for candidates they choose," she said.
Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) described the new map as “landscape-changing.” Likening it to an earthquake, he said it was “high on the Richter scale, definitely strong enough not only to wake someone up at night, but make them get up and go to the door.” Ochoa said that with Latinos making up 38% of California's population, it would take a long time to be able to analyze and make sense of the new districts to see how Latinos fared.
"Los Angeles County on all levels is just a giant, complex draw," he said. "Some things might be okay, some things we're still examining to see whether the commission complied with the federal Voting Rights Act." After that's squared away, MALDEF says it just wants to "try to respect as many communities of interest as possible."
Ochoa added that he's "certainly not happy with what happened to the Orange County Senate district, which had been an opportunity-district for Latino community members and that community was split up."
On a positive note, he highlighted the restoration of Latino-majority Congressional districts in the San Fernando Valley, which he claimed was "gerrymandered away in 2001 by the political redistricting process."
Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book and a long-time Republican advisor in past redistricting efforts, said that, for the most part, he's pleased with the maps.
“There are some areas I would quibble with, but on the whole, the politics are fair."
He is especially please with the Congressional map, which he figured had five "truly swing" district, which could put the Republicans up or down a seat depending on the candidates. "With the Congressional map, in some ways the Republicans are getting more than they actually deserve. They were the beneficiaries of a very large gerrymander ten years ago."
Quinn doesn't, however, favor the state Senate plan. "It shows signs of partisan interference. I believe one of the commissioners from Ventura County actually drew a Senate seat for a friend of his to whom he had given money in 2010." As a result, Quinn believes the Senate plan will most likely meet with a referendum.
Bob Stern, with the Center for Governmental Studies, pointed out that it was Republicans who originally pushed for redistricting in 2008. “Ironically it was the Republicans. Democrats were against it… now the Democrats are saying, 'Hmm not so bad'.”
The final map is now scheduled to be released this Friday, which will kick off a two-week period of public comment.
Regardless of how the lines are drawn, Stern said he's convinced not everyone will be happy. “There’s no question it’s going to be second-guessed. Everyone’s going to second guess it.”
Commissioner Raya said her team is prepared for that. "They're going to be people unhappy with the results, but overall, I think we’ve done a good job of following the law and that’s really what our only charge was.”
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies
Jeanne Raya, commissioner on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission
Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC)
Marqueece Harris Dawson, coordinator with the African American Redistricting Collaborative and former Western Regional Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)
Erica Teasley Linnick, coordinator with the African American Redistricting Collaborative and former Western Regional Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)
Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF)
Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book and long-time Republican advisor in past redistricting efforts