The Commission’s First Draft Maps: Doing worse than the Legislature did

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

The results are in and the first draft maps released by the Citizens Redistricting Commission on June 10 have bombed.  Over the past two weeks, Commission members have had to sit through hours of testimony on the maps while more than 1,000 of their fellow citizens told them what a lousy job they did.

The first maps achieved remarkable results.  First, they managed to violate the Federal Voting Rights Act by actually reducing the number of majority-minority districts in a state where Latinos accounted for 90 percent of net growth over the past decade.  The Commission now realizes this; they threw out their staff’s entire congressional work product for Los Angeles County and the commissioners themselves are now redrawing the districts.

Second, in place after place they managed to gerrymander the state even more than the legislature did in 2001 with a series of truly bonehead districts. Now that is a real trick, and here are just six examples of where they did a worse job than the politicians did ten years ago.

Stuck in Lodi Again: Poor Lodi, it does not deserve this.  In 2001, the pols drew Lodi into a Senate district that went to Fresno and into a congressional district that went to Morgan Hill (disclosure, I was the expert witness in a 2003 court case challenging all this.)  Now the Commission puts Lodi into a Senate district that goes to Santa Rosa and into an Assembly district running through five counties to Woodland north of Sacramento.  It was absurd then and is even more absurd now.

The No People District: I was also the expert witness in a suit challenging the wandering Senate district that goes from San Jose all the way to Lompoc.  This district resulted from a political deal to dismantle the compact Santa Cruz-Santa Clara-Monterey district and string out Republican voting towns all along the coast to give the GOP an extra senator.  It worked and Republicans have held the seat this decade.

The draft plan now makes this district even worse.  It now runs from the city of Santa Cruz all the way to Lompoc, and in so doing it combines the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay community with San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.  It happens that they are separated by 100 miles of no people, along the Big Sur.  Try driving that some time and see how long it takes between the two population centers.  The district is not only ridiculous, it is unconstitutional; the constitution says you must not bypass adjacent areas of population for far distant areas.  Attaching the two parts of the district along the unpopulated Big Sur does exactly that.  Santa Cruz belongs with its Bay Area neighbors not strung out along the coast.

The District Nobody Wanted:  In 2001, a D.C. scandal played a major role in California politics.  An intern named Chandra Levy who had worked for Congressman Gary Condit went missing.  Her body was found years later, but it turned out Condit was having an affair with her.  The backlash against Condit cost him his seat in Congress; he lost the 2002 Democratic primary to then Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza.   

But Cardoza was to be the beneficiary of a sweetheart Democratic Senate district drawn from his home in Merced to Salinas.  He had a fine opportunity to go to the Senate, but given the Condit scandal ran for congress instead. Without Cardoza as the candidate, the district went Republican three times.  Amazingly, this sweetheart gerrymander still exists in the draft Senate maps.  The Commission’s reason for keeping Merced and Salinas together is the Voting Rights Act; the Latino population has to be kept high so we are told.  What the Commission seems not to understand is that this particular combination keeps Latinos from being elected.  In 2010, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero lost the district despite the fact other Democrats carried it because she was a Latina from Salinas and Merced Democrats would not vote for her.  So now we see the Commission keeping a dreadfully gerrymandered district in the name of Latino voting rights that no Latino can win.

The Save Them or Eat Them District: After they drew Assembly districts the Commission blundered in many of its pairings for Senate districts.  No better example exists than the west Los Angeles Senate district that runs from Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains to Castaic and the Kern County line.  The legislature never put these two areas together; the environmentalists in the Santa Monica Mountains want to save endangered species; the high desert folks like to eat them.  No single district in the hearings has been as roundly condemned as this monstrosity. After hours of listening to protests, hopefully the Commission got the message.

The Five Fresnos:  The Commission managed to divide Fresno County five times for congressional districts.  I’ll let the Fresno Bee speak for this one.  "It might have helped if the California Citizens Redistricting Commission had held a public hearing in Fresno before releasing preliminary district maps that sliced up the region in ways that don’t make sense. Even the self-serving state legislators didn’t put five congressional districts in Fresno County in their gerrymandered maps."  The constitution says counties should be kept together; some splitting of Fresno is necessary because of the Voting Rights Act, but not five times.

The Unkindest Cuts of All:  Fresno is not alone.  Too often the Commission whacks and hacks cities and counties for no apparent reason.  Yolo County manages to be split three times, with leafy, trendy Davis put in with working class Sacramento, to the uniform horror of all concerned.  The city of Sacramento also is split three times.  But even worse is the division of tiny Glenn County (population 28,122) and Siskiyou County (population 44,900).  Never since California became a state, in all the sleazy and self serving redistricting done by the politicians over the decades, have these two tiny counties been divided – until now.

So the first challenge for the Commission as it begins revising its maps is not trying to do better than the legislature, but to stop doing worse.

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