Has the United States Supreme Court just given California Democrats the right to gerrymander California’s congressional districts to their hearts’ delight? That’s the most likely conclusion from the oral arguments in a case involving the Arizona independent redistricting commission. If the Court rules for the Arizona legislature, as the oral arguments strongly imply, the Court will also of necessity toss out the current California congressional maps and return California districting to the legislature.
In 2010, California voters took congressional redistricting away from the legislature and gave it to the newly created Citizens Redistricting Commission. Arizona has a similar commission, and legislative Republicans there were unhappy with that state’s new congressional lines. So they sued contending only the legislature can draw congressional districts. The Supreme Court appears likely to agree with Arizona’s Republicans, but in the process it will give a huge gift to California Democrats.
So come June when the court decision is handed down, Democratic Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon are likely to be kingmakers, able to reshape California’s 53 congressional districts at their whim.
Republicans did not much like the Commission’s 2011 congressional districts, but everyone agrees that the legislature will be much worse for them. That’s why the last three GOP governors wrote to the Supreme Court asking them not to throw out the California Commission’s districts. Their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Kindly bear with me, dear reader, because although this is quite arcane, it is what political power is all about. Here is what is most likely to happen. First the “Lucky Four” will get safe seats. They are Reps Ami Bera (D-Sacramento) Julia Brownley (D-Ventura), Scott Peters (D-San Diego and Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Springs). These four won previously Republican seats in 2012 and held onto them in 2014.
Bera will get a safe Democratic seat through voter trades with Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui. Brownley will lose Republican Thousand Oaks and get more Los Angeles Democrats. Peters will be made safe with trades with Democratic Rep Susan Davis. Ruiz will be made safe by trades with Democratic Rep Juan Vargas (probably be given Imperial County). Democrats will also safen up Democratic Rep John Garamendi’s (D-Walnut Grove) northern California seat, which can easily be done.
Now we must turn to the Central Valley. Latino Democrats were promised a congressional district by the Commission but it never happened. So Atkins and De Leon will be under pressure to collapse one of the Central Valley Republicans to create a new Democratic Latino district.
The seat most at risk is that of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). Is there any reason Democrats should play nice with him? McCarthy and his leadership are holding up the Department of Homeland Security budget because 50 hard line anti-immigration House Republicans want to reverse President Obama’s immigration order.
No one should be fooled, this is aimed at supposed hoards of Latinos flooding across our southern border – GOP hard liners are not talking about illegal English butlers, it is all about Mexicans. Well, the Supreme Court is about to put a pencil into the hands of California’s Latino Democrats.
Liberals and Democrats whine a lot about bad old gerrymandering that the Republicans did to them in state after state in 2011; well, this is their opportunity to stop whining and do something about it. Is there any reason California Democrats should not punish the anti-immigration reform House GOP leaders? I think you know the answer.
Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) needs a safer district, he nearly lost in 2014. So his GOP counties Merced and Madera will be removed from his district and given to GOP Rep Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) and Denham’s Democrats will go to Costa.
Rep. David Valadeo (R-Hanford) has a heavily Democratic district but he is extremely popular. He will be given Republicans from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) and about a third of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s district, and thus he like Denham to the north will become safe Republican.
Rep. Steve Knight (R-Lancaster) will be given Thousand Oaks to safen Rep. Julia Brownley, and will lose about half his district – the more Democratic parts – to safe Democratic districts in the Los Angeles County core. He will be moved north into Kern County and take another third of McCarthy’s district.
The remaining part of McCarthy’s district will be combined with what’s left of Nunes’s district after the exchanges involving Valadeo and Knight. And miraculously a new Latino Democratic district will emerge out of the old Valadeo territory, mostly centered in the Latino precincts of Bakersfield. Say hello to Congressman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield).
So Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will be the odd man out. He will have a choice of facing Reps Valadeo, Knight or Nunes in a primary, in a district more favorable to each of them. A nasty GOP primary will absorb millions of dollars of Republican money while six currently marginal Democrats will all become safe and a new Democratic seat be created, bringing Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) that much closer to becoming House Speaker once again.
Arizona Republicans who brought this case are the hands that held the dagger; now about to be thrust into the back of the California Republican congressional delegation.