California citizens commission approves new maps; Republicans to challenge

 Republican Commissioner Mike Ward speaks in opposition to the California Redistricting Commission.
Republican Commissioner Mike Ward speaks in opposition to the California Redistricting Commission.
Julie Small/KPCC

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A group of citizens tasked with redrawing California’s congressional and state legislative districts voted to approve the changes Monday morning, but the new political map for the 2012 election may be short-lived. The California Republican Party’s backing a ballot referendum to challenge them.

With little fanfare and much relief, the 14-member citizens commission ratified new districts designed to be more competitive, compact and free from partisan interests. But Republican Commissioner Mike Ward says the group failed at the task. Ward was the single vote against the new maps. Five Democrats and four Republicans voted yes, along with four who declined to state their affiliation.

Ward released a written statement before the vote that says the commission “broke the law,” violated public meeting laws and “made decisions based on political motives.” The new lines push many incumbents into the same district, in some cases from the same party.

The Anaheim Republican accused the commission of failing to consistently apply the Voting Rights Act, improperly meeting outside the public forum, and succumbing to partisan influences. The California Republican Party has cited similar rationale for launching a petition drive to overturn the commissions’ work through a referendum on the ballot.

Democrats are expected to gain seats in Congress and the state Legislature as a result. The California Republican Party is particularly critical of the new state Senate districts. Party Chair Tom Del Beccaro has said the party’s “likely” to file a ballot referendum to challenge the new districts as early as this week.

Santa Cruz Commissioner Vince Barabba, a Republican, stands behind the re-drawn maps. He says voters asked for non-partisan districts – now they have them.

"I don’t know anywhere in the Constitution of this state where it says there are Republican or Democratic districts," said Barabba. "It says there are legislative districts."

Barabba says the redistricting commission followed the law and followed it consistently. He invites any Californian who has some doubts to watch the hundreds of hours of discussion at public meetings posted on the commission’s website.