California’s impending loss of a congressional seat may set off vicious intraparty fights not seen in California for nearly a decade.
The conflict may happen because the state’s congressional districts will be redrawn on the basis of population figures from the 2020 census.
The state’s new figures will not be enough to sustain California’s current 53 districts, meaning one district, somewhere in the state but most likely in Southern California, will have to go.
States like California, which had lesser growth relative to the other states, lost seats even though they grew in population.
There is a real probability that two congressional incumbents – maybe more — will have to face off in a newly drawn district. And since the census-driven map-drawing also affects the boundaries of legislative and local districts, there is the potential for multiple bloodlettings up and down the political ladder.
“We could have more than one incumbent-on-incumbent situation,” says Garry South, a Los Angeles-based Democratic political consultant. That could happen if more than one district wound up containing two incumbents.
California did grow in population since the last decennial nose count in 2010, but its 6.1 percent increase didn’t match the 7.4 percent jump in the national population.
With congressional seats at 435 since 1911 (the number later capped by law), states with faster growth rates became entitled to additional seats. States like California, which had lesser growth relative to the other states, lost seats even though they grew in population.
What happened to California is part of a larger picture.
Several seats likely will migrate from blue states to red ones because of population shifts from the Rust Belt, the Northeast and California to the South and other portions of the West.
Clearly, this could dramatically affect the partisan makeup of the House, which Democrats control with a scant 10-member majority out of 435 voting members.
The congressional district lines in California will be drawn by the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission.
It wasn’t that California didn’t try – the state spent more than $187 million encouraging residents to respond to the census and nearly 70 percent of households did. That was higher than the national average, and higher than the response rate in seat-gaining states such as Florida (2 seats), and a seat each for Texas, North Carolina, Montana, Oregon and Colorado.
Nationally, the Republicans have reason to celebrate.
“As a result, we can now say with finality that Republicans will control the redrawing of 187 congressional districts (43 percent) — or 2.5 times as many as Democrats (who will redraw 75 districts, or 17 percent), wrote Geoffrey Skelley and Nathaniel Rakich in 538. “There are also 167 districts (38 percent) where neither party will enjoy exclusive control over redistricting (either because of independent commissions or split partisan control). And, of course, there are six districts (1 percent) that won’t need to be drawn at all (because they are at-large districts that cover their entire state).”
The congressional district lines in California will be drawn by the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, which will also draw lines for state Senate, state Assembly, and state Board of Equalization districts.
It’s like throwing all the cards in the air and seeing where they land.” Garry South
By law, the commission includes five Democrats, five Republicans, and four who are either registered without either major party affiliation, or “independent.” The commission’s job is to create districts of relatively equal population and some geographic coherence, and they must conform with federal and state voting-rights laws. The new districts, of course, will be fewer by one than the existing congressional districts.
The commission’s drafts of district maps are scheduled to be released by November or December of this year. Final versions – the ones determining a number of politicians’ fates — are due to California’s secretary of state by February 2022.
Commission members will not take into account which incumbents live in which districts or how they might be affected by redrawing, creating the possibility that battles might occur in more than one district.
“It’s like throwing all the cards in the air and seeing where they land,” South told Capitol Weekly in a telephone interview.
The last census created one of the most bruising congressional primary fights in state history, when Democratic Incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman fought each other.
The loss of a congressional seat will still leave California with by far the largest congressional delegation, with 52 members. In addition, our state has the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and the vice president, Kamala Harris.
But it will impact – slightly — California’s electoral college clout, because the number of electoral college votes allotted to each state is based on the total of a state’s members of congress and its two senators. Right now, California has 55 electoral votes – 53 House members and two senators. That will drop to 54 with the loss of one congressional seat. Texas will have 40 electoral votes under the new boundaries, Florida will have 30 and New York, which had been tied with Florida but which lost a seat, will have 29.
Things could get brutal.
The last census created one of the most bruising congressional primary fights in state history. Democratic Incumbents Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in 2012 found themselves contesting a San Fernando-based district. Their slash-and-burn campaigns wound up spending a combine $15 million and at one public forum, the two Democrats nearly came to blows.
That fight was reminiscent of the 1984 battle between two Republican state senators — conservative John Doolittle and congenial moderate Ray Johnson of Chico — who ran against each other when their districts were collapsed and combined, with Johnson’s home turf cut out of the district on the order of Senate leaders. Doolittle won, and later went to congress.
“They took away Butte County from me, the place where I was born and where my grandparents settled after moving West in 1861,” Johnson once said