How the Redistricting Commission Screwed Latinos

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

“These maps are a worst case scenario for the Latino community. The lines drawn by the Commission gerrymander Los Angeles Latinos into a district with the millionaires of Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades. These lines would disenfranchise Latinos by denying them a fair voice in the democratic process.” So says Arturo Vargas, redistricting expert with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

What is this all about? Did the Arizona Legislature sneak into California and draw the new district lines released by the Redistricting Commission last week? Aren’t Latinos responsible for 90 percent of the net growth in California over the past decade? Is it possible a nonpartisan citizens commission could treat them so badly?

Well, Mr. Vargas is absolutely correct; California Latinos take it in the shorts in the Commission’s draft plans.

In assessing the impact of redistricting plans on minority groups, the courts tell us to look at purpose and effect. Is the purpose to deny fair representation? Is that the effect?

I will not go so far as to say that the Commission has been taken over by the Arizona Legislature. Their purpose was not to disenfranchise Latinos. But that is the effect. And the reason for this is not nefarious motives on the Commission’s part. It is the inexperience and lack of knowledge of California’s demographic history on the part of the Commission’s staff.

Exhibit one is San Jose. Back in the 1980s when I was a Republican legislative redistricting staffer, Latino groups came to us and said, unite all the historic Latino neighborhoods in east and south San Jose and give us a district we can win. Working together, the Democratic and Republican staffers ignored their request, slicing and dicing the neighborhoods. It was nothing personal, only business and we knew what we were doing. This Commission apparently did it without knowing it.

In 1991, the Supreme Court masters did create the long overdue San Jose Latino district, and said in their report that is what they were doing. It is today one of only two Latino-held legislative seats in the Bay Area. But in the Commission plan, this 20-year Latino district, now represented by Assembly Member Nora Campos, simply disappears. The heaviest Latino neighborhoods are in an Asian district going north, and one to the west, while an Asian piece of the district is placed in a Salinas Latino district. Go figure.

Then we have the overlapping Senate districts. A big piece of Latino and Asian San Jose goes off to a district in Modesto. This district, successor to the existing 12th Senate District is a Voting Rights Act district, including the Voting Rights Act counties of Monterey and Merced. You may not regress Latino electoral opportunities in VRA counties, but the Commission managed to do just that.

Because Monterey and Merced Counties are in the same district today, the Commission apparently felt they needed to keep them together in its plan, even though that creates a crazy gerrymandered monstrosity that runs from the Salinas Valley to Modesto, and violates the state constitution.

That monstrosity was not drawn in 2001 to enhance Latino opportunities; it was part of a political deal between Anglo Democratic legislators. Once again the Supreme Court masters got it right; in 1991 they noted that putting Merced and Monterey together would dilute Latino opportunities because Merced is full of “Valley-crats,” conservative Democrats, who will not vote for a coastal Latino candidate. And we saw that exact result in 2010, when Republican Anthony Cannella of Ceres beat Democrat Anna Caballero of Salinas in what should have been a Democratic win.

So how to resolve this? Easy. Restore the historic Latino Assembly district in San Jose and connect it to the heavily Latino Assembly district covering Salinas. That creates a sure Latino State Senate district, which would be the first one in the Bay Area.

All of the southern Bay Area needs serious redrawing because the chopping up does not stop with ethnic neighborhoods. For 60 years, Santa Cruz has been united with the Silicon Valley area of Santa Clara County, which are connected via Highway 17. But under the Commission plan, Santa Cruz runs down the coast in a Senate district that goes all the way to Lompoc. The district is unconstitutional since it violates both contiguity
and compactness, held together by Big Sur, one hundred miles of coastline with no people, not to mention no communities of interest. People in Santa Cruz work and shop in Silicon Valley, not in Lompoc. Should not the Commission look at where people live and work in forming these districts?

Exhibit two is Los Angeles. Mr. Vargas complains rightly about the Commission’s preference for uniting wealthy areas with working class area in ways that dilute Latino opportunities. They do this all throughout Southern California, and a good example is the new Congressional District that runs from Pasadena to Diamond Bar, communities that have never been in the same district. The incumbent in this area is Congresswoman Judy Chu, an Asian American, who took the former Latino seat held by Hilda Solis when she became Labor Secretary in 2009.

The district was historically Latino and Chu won it fair and square in 2009 and held it easily in 2010. But the Commission decided it needed to destroy the Latino base of this seat and unite disparate Asian American communities into a crazy quilt gerrymander that runs around Latino neighborhoods. What criteria tells this Commission it must dilute Latinos because a Latino district has an Asian American incumbent?

Perhaps most disturbing in Los Angeles is the lack of any sense of history in forming the Latino districts. The Commission is not supposed to consider incumbent homes in drawing the districts, but they should consider the historical minority areas. Their plan combines the current districts held by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal Allard and Congressman Xavier Becerra. These are senior members of Congress, so by combining their districts not only do they weaken California’s clout in Congress, they gravely weaken Latino clout in Congress. Does that make any sense?

Congresswoman Roybal Allard is the daughter of the legendary Latino political pioneer Edward Roybal, the first Latino elected to major office in Los Angeles County, more than sixty years ago, and the first California Latino member of Congress, elected in 1962. The Almanac of American Politics describes this district very well: “An emblem of the entry level Latino neighborhoods of the nation’s second largest city, the places where many immigrants come to find a cheap place to live, doubling and tripling up with other families.” The district also includes Boyle Heights, “once an entry level of Irish and Jewish immigrants.”

This embryo from which grew Latino political power in Southern California no longer exists in the Commission’s plan. It is no wonder that one analysis circulating these days shows that number of heavily Latino “majority-minority” legislative and Congressional districts actually decreases under their plan. That is an incredible accomplishment, and one this Commission should not be proud of.

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