This Wednesday, December 8, the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, in conjunction with the California Target Book, will hold the first conference on the new Citizens Redistricting Commission, at the California Dental Association rotunda, 1201 K Street, 15th Floor, Sacramento, from 9:30 am to noon. The conference is free and open to the public.

The conference will provide a look at estimated populations for congressional and legislative districts that the Commission will use to draw new districts for California. It will also look at population shifts within the state, the criteria and open process the Commission must use, and the legal restraints the Commission will be under.

This conference follows the first meeting of the original eight members of the nonpartisan commission last week. This week, the initial commissioners will choose six additional members to fill out the full commission of five Democrats, five Republicans and four others.

What can we say about this Commission so far? First, the sneering attitude of cynics like Democratic chair John Burton, “”Whoever these people are, they will be run by whoever the staff is, because they will not have a clue about anything,” is all wrong. The initial eight are highly qualified in terms of their background and community involvement. They were the survivors of a long willowing process that started with 30,000 applicants for the redistricting body.

The temporary chair chosen by his fellow commissioners is Peter Yao, a retiring Claremont City Councilmember who certainly understands the political process. The vice chair is Cynthia Dai of San Francisco who has been active with fellow Stanford students in trying to obtain the release of Chinese dissident from jail in China. One of the members was head of the US Census under Presidents Nixon, Carter and Reagan. No doubt Burton is disappointed that these people are not political hacks because clearly they are not.

For two days commissioners sat through lengthy briefings on the law and the process they must follow. The line drawing must be entirely in the open, with meaningful public hearings. They must adhere to federal constitutional standards, detailed state criteria, and the federal Voting Right Act.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the briefings involved Steven Lynn, the outgoing chair of the Arizona redistricting commission, who provided them with important practical advice: commissioners should not draw their own individual districts; they will fall in love with their own handiwork. Maintain partisan balance in the legal team and hire qualified professional staff.

My guess is that the process will begin with lengthy public hearings in which local governments and community groups will be asked for their input. The commissioners will then direct their staff to prepare maps reflective of these concerns. These maps will then be subject to further public hearings.

The people of California are about to watch a process the likes of which they have never seen: 14 volunteers trying to allot hundreds of thousands of census data bits onto maps that will determine political power in this state for the next decade.

For more information on the Rose Institute-California Target Book conference, contact or call 909 621-8159.