Many in the California GOP aren’t happy with the outcome of the redistricting process. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that Republicans would have been better off letting the legislature draw and approve their own lines instead of adopting a citizen commission. They’re dead wrong, and I can prove it.
Redistricting is a high-stakes game no matter where it’s played – having the ability to define how political districts are drawn, and consequently the ability to manipulate those districts to dilute an opponent’s base of support to create favorable matchups, can cause massive shifts in power and governance at the drop of a hat. It should surprise no one that in California, the country’s most populous and perhaps most politically tumultuous state, the stakes are as high as ever.
California’s redistricting process traditionally occurred behind closed doors, with districts drawn by the Speaker of the Assembly and approved in cross-partisan deals for the purpose of incumbent protection. In 2008 and 2010, Californians passed Propositions 11 and 20, yanking the process out of the hands of politicians and instead establishing a Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, tasked with drawing legislative districts for Assembly, Senate, Congress and Board of Equalization without any political data, instead relying only on demographic information, testimony from the public and the advice of demographic consultants.
The GOP had championed the idea of a commission for years, arguing that another incumbent-led redistricting could disastrously alter the balance of political power in the state. And they were right – political power has shifted enough on its own to the point where Democrats now control all statewide offices outright and are approaching a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature.
While in past redistrictings Democratic leadership had to allow Republicans some input into the process in order for it to pass both houses of the legislature and be signed by the Governor (often himself a Republican), they now would be in a position to pass whatever they wanted. In fact, Democrats have shown in recent budget cycles that, through political favor, they can even generate enough cross-over from Republicans in the legislature to pass politically divisive votes with a two-thirds majority.
In the redistricting process, where political favor matters perhaps more than in any other aspect of politics, Democratic leadership could even be in a position to swing a small handful of Republicans to support their own gerrymandered plan in exchange for favorable outcomes for those who joined them – and the results could be disastrous for the GOP. Speaker Perez, the politically savvy Assemblyman who has spent his entire career in California politics, knows full well how much damage he could (and would) have done to California Republicans if he still had the ability to draw district lines.
Just how bad could it get? There’s only one way to know—draw a congressional plan that decimates the GOP, maximizing Democratic opportunities throughout the state while diluting the Republican base, while being legally viable and immune to any sort of challenge via voting rights law. Some of the districts are clear gerrymanders, but nothing worse than what was adopted in the 2001 redistricting. Essentially, do what the Democrats would have done.
Yesterday, California Republican Committeeman Shawn Steel sent out the following in an email overview of the new, commission-drawn congressional plan:
We definitely have opportunities and challenges. Here’s the breakdown:
Current delegation: 34 Democrats, 19 Republicans.
34 Safe or “Lean” Democratic Seats
17 Safe or “Lean” Republican Seats
2 Toss Up Seats (currently held by Democrats)
The results of the plan I drew were an entirely different story. My Worst Case Scenario plan reduced republicans to just 11 Safe Republicans and 4 true swing seats, with much of the rest of the state mired in seats that lean Democrat with at least a 10-point advantage. Even in a best case scenario, Republicans would probably only be looking at 14 or 15 seats out of the available 53.
The commission process certainly wasn’t perfect, and certainly could be improved (see Matt Rexroad’s article in the Sacramento Bee for an honest overview of how and why). Still, the outcome was far better than what could have occurred if politicians were once again allowed to draw their own lines behind closed doors. Advocating for a return to that process could lead to a catastrophic outcome for Republicans, who at the end of the day must be careful what they wish for.
If you’re interested in seeing the plan for yourself, it’s posted online here at MPIMaps.com.
Chandra Sharma is a Political Communications, Redistricting and New Media consultant with Meridian Pacific. Follow him on Twitter: @ChandraSharma
See below for a breakdown of some of the winners and losers:
Northern CA Democrats – The east/west district configuration adopted in the northern part of the state is to the benefit of Democrats in the region, who now have two seats through the dilution of traditionally conservative inland voting power with coastal democrats
Jerry McNerney – McNerney ends up with a safe seat that won’t draw any serious challenges
Lois Capps – CD22 in the new plan is still vulnerable to a Republican challenge, but is safer than CD24 In the commission plan
Berman/Sherman – Each congressman gets his own seat to run for in this plan
Latino Democrats – Latinos maintain their seats from the Commission plan and are poised to perform well in several of the new Lean Dem seats, particularly those in LA County
Herger/Lamalfa – The traditionally conservative Northern CA seat disappears due to the east/west alignment of districts in that part of the state
Maldonado – While the coastal CD22 is still winnable for Maldonado against Capps, he would be in for a much bigger fight in this seat that swaps out inland portions of San Luis Obispo county for coastal Santa Barbara and Ventura
McKeon – The high desert is split into two swing seats, both of which would favor electing a Democrat
Gallegly/Strickland – The conservative portions of the Conejo Valley have been blended with Los Angeles to create a seat that leans democratic
Orange County Republicans – Two Republican seats are available between 4 incumbents, with Rohrabacher and Campbell drawn together into coastal district 42 and no incumbents in inland district 47 (which includes much of Campbell’s current seat).
Mary Bono-Mack – Riverside county is carved up, leaving her surrounded by seats that lean democratic
Dan Lungren – While the bulk of his prior seat is drawn into a new safe Dem district, CD7, a new south Sacramento-county swing seat that moves east, is available for Lungren to run for, and is one which he would most likely be favored in.
Central Valley Republicans – 4 of the 5 Congressional seats along the 5/99 Corridor, Districts 7, 16, 18 and 21, are swing seats that could go to a Republican despite a slight Democratic registration advantage
Valadao, Dutton/Miller, McEachron/Cook – All end up with seats similar or equal to the ones they’re currently running for, although the McEachron/Cook seat could draw a challenge from an incumbent like McKeon or Bono-Mack deciding to move due to the loss of their old seat.
Lowenthal/Delong – While the new CD39 includes less of Orange County than CD47 in the Commission plan, the district works out roughly the same in terms of election performance