Republicans backing a voter referendum to overturn California’s new congressional maps are on the verge of dropping the effort, sources say.
One reason is a lack of enthusiasm among California’s GOP congressional delegation. One of the newest but most-prominent members of that delegation — Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield — reportedly led those arguing that it wasn’t worth fighting the new maps.
At a recent meeting of the National Republican Campaign Committee, several strategists argued that the statewide referendum wasn’t a good use of campaign resources. And some noted that the congressional maps, drawn by a voter-approved independent commission, are more favorable to Republicans than they would have been under a Democrat-controlled gerrymander.
Meanwhile, a separate ballot effort to toss out the state Senate maps is going forward and raising money, according to sponsors. That group has also filed a lawsuit to block the Senate maps and enjoys strong support from current GOP state senators.
The effort to put the new congressional maps in front of voters was submitted last month and had been cleared for signature gathering, although no committee had been created to raise funds, according to the secretary of state’s office.
There was no formal announcement that the ballot referendum campaign for the congressional districts was abandoned. However, in such cases groups typically elect to cease signature gathering, causing the measure to fail once the deadline is passed. The referendum’s sponsor, Julie Vandermost, and its attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment.
At the recent GOP convention in Los Angeles, there were closed-door discussions about the initiative’s failure to gain traction. That has upset some Republican commentators.
“As someone who has covered California politics for decades, and watched the redistricting process back to the days when the late Congressman Phil Burton emasculated Republican ranks in the house delegation in 1981, it is surprising to me that the Republican House members are not fighting back with more fervor against a lethal plan which could cut as many as six members from their delegation in 2012,” said GOP pundit John Gizzi, who writes for the publication Human Events blog.
Gizzi posted an article about the lack of support for the effort on the Human Events blog on Sunday. There and elsewhere, he’s noted several GOP congressmen who could lose their seats next year. Two prominent members are Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and David Dreier, R-San Dimas.
There are other problems, Gizzi added: “Republican Reps. Ed Royce and Gary Miller have their Southern California districts merged, and 13-term Rep. Elton Gallegly finds himself in the same district as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon.” He also noted that Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego, will now face a district “where the GOP base was substantially diluted.”
Sources say McCarthy has been lobbying fellow GOP members of Congress not to pursue the referendum, including at a meeting in Washington, D.C., last week. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, also has been lobbying against the effort. Both men ended up with fairly safe Republican districts under the new redistricting plan.
“It depends who you are in the delegation what your position would be,” said veteran GOP political consultant Rob Stutzman.
In a Sept. 16 editorial in Roll Call, “Congressional Redistricting Not All Bad News for California GOP,” Stutzman argued that even if the maps aren’t what Republicans had hoped, they could have been a lot worse. He cited a trio of Democratic members of Congress who could complain about the districts they’ve been given — Reps. John Garamendi of Walnut Creek, Lois Capps of Santa Barbara and Joe Baca of San Bernardino — as well as a couple of other seats where Republicans could have a chance if 2012 turns out to be a good GOP year.
“While there appears to be plenty of valid suspicion that the political agendas of members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission influenced the nuance of map making, there is no doubt that citizens have been better served by taking the politicians out of the self-dealing position of carving up the state for their purposes,” Stutzman wrote.
Money also was an issue. It appears likely that there will be numerous initiatives going before voters next year, including measures on pensions, public employee collective bargaining, parental notification before a minor can have an abortion, marijuana legalization and other topics.
The California Republican Party, meanwhile, has suffered from a drop in fundraising ability in recent years. According to the latest records from the Secretary of State’s office, they had $220,000 in the bank. The Democratic State Central Committee, by contrast, has over $7.8 million in their accounts.
The group behind the Senate maps referendum, Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR), has raised $485,000. This includes $88,000 from the California Republican Party and another $25,000 from Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Fresno, who was a member of the state Senate from 2002 to 2010. Several other well-known California GOP leaders have donated as well, including state senators Bob Dutton, R-Inland Empire; Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale; Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks; Mimi Walters, R-Tustin; and Mark Wyland, R-Escondido. All of this money has come in since August 23.
But according to FAIR’s political consultant, Dave Gilliard, the real total is now over $700,000, including smaller donations that will show up in the database once the quarterly reports are finished.
“It’s going very well,” Gilliard said.
In the Senate, Democrats hope to pick up two more seats in order to have a two-thirds supermajority, which would allow them to pass tax increases without needing any Republican votes.
One of those could come from Strickland’s district, where his Republican margin was cut. Another might come on the central coast, where Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, won a special election just over a year ago. His closely-divided district picked up more Democrats, and he could face a tough reelection when the dust clears, whether the maps are changed are not.