Latinos Lose In Senate Redistricting

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

After three years and a full complement of State Senate races, it is clear that in 2011 the Citizens Redistricting Commission adopted a plan that actually reduces Latino representation in the State Senate, this at a time when Latino population and political influence was mushrooming.

When the Commission unveiled its final maps in September 2011, Latino activists were horrified; they looked at the maps and saw a decline in the number of Latino State Senators.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, wrote at the time: “The Latino populations of the San Fernando Valley and Orange County have grown significantly over the last decade.  Many Latinos in these areas are currently in State Senate districts where they have been gaining political power.  The Commission’s draft maps will make it more difficult for their voices to be heard in the electoral process.” 

He was right.  Formerly Latino Senate districts in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County were made less Latino.  There were eight Latino Senators when the redistricting process began; now that all the seats have been filled there are just five (technically a sixth if you count Sen-elect  Connie Leyva, who took over a heavily Latino district in San Bernardino County.  She is married to a Latino but is not one herself.)

So how did this happen?  Much of it involved game playing by Commission members.  There was an obvious agenda to harm controversial Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks).  His district was extended far into Los Angeles County and absorbed many Latino precincts in the district of Sen. Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley).  The upshot was at Padilla’s historically Latino district in the San Fernando Valley went Anglo in 2014 with the election of Sen-elect Bob Hertzberg.

That may cause a double whammy for Latino legislators.  Hertzberg has a lean and hungry look, and his hunger is for the Senate President Pro Tem spot currently held by Sen. Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles).

In Orange County, which Vargas also noted as a potential Latino loss, the Commission was told not to combine the Latino and Asian neighborhoods, but they did just that, and GOP Sen-elect Janet Nguyen took the formerly Latino district of Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).

Latinos did gain one Senate seat under the Commission plan; that of Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), but that seat would have gone Latino anyway as soon as the Anglo incumbent retired, which it did.

And Latinos had a bad break in the Central Valley when popular Democrat Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) resigned his heavily Latino district.  It was won by Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) in a special election and he held on to the formerly Latino district this past Tuesday.

The really bad news for Latinos is that two of the three new State Senators , Nguyen and Vidak, have 12 year terms and Hertzberg has eight years, so none of these districts will open before 2022.  Maybe Latinos can make up some of their losses this decade when a new Commission draws new districts in 2021, but that is a long time to wait.

UPDATE: This piece was updated with information about Sen.-elect Connie Leyva

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