The 2021 redistricting has begun in earnest with the seating of the first eight members of the California Citizens Commission, the so-called “Lucky Eight” because they were seated after a random draw of ping-pong balls. In the quarantine era, this drawing, carried live, likely qualified as riveting entertainment.
These Lucky Eight had gone through an extensive year-long process which included qualitative assessments, political scrutiny and then random luck.
They aren’t the full body that will conduct the state’s second redistricting under the independent process. One of their first duties will be to select the next six commissioners who will serve with them, filling out the full 14-member panel.
And this selection has quickly become a big high-pressure decision given the fact that none of these first eight were from the state’s burgeoning Latino Community.
Yes, with 40% of the state being Latino, and this population comprising more than 30% of the eligible voters, more than a quarter of registered voters, there is not a single representative among this first set of commissioners.
The target for commission finalists is a strange Venn diagram of individuals with a wealth of experience around government and policy
Understandably, these first commissioners are going to feel the pressure from legislative leaders, the Latino Caucus, Common Cause, and dozens more who are demanding that they add needed diversity to their full commission. It’s a bit of a maelstrom for a handful of new commissioners who aren’t usually used to being under fire.
But, how did we get here?
Starting over a year ago, applications were open to any Californian who was qualified to be on the commission. More than 20,000 applied, with 2,000 selected to complete the supplemental application, before a three-member panel from the State Auditor’s office narrowed the field to a final list of 120 applicants – all of whom were invited to come for an in-person interview.
The target for commission finalists is a strange Venn diagram of individuals with a wealth of experience around government and policy, a deep background in community engagement, but no overt political or partisan activity.
Based on what we saw in 2011, this process favors individuals who have worked in academia, or for agencies like the U.S. Census or local planning departments, and those in the non-profit and community organization segments.
Following the live interviews, and with a rigorous open process, the Auditor finally narrowed the field to the final 60 applicants.
It is also the Auditor’s job to ensure that the applicants have an appreciation for California’s diverse demographics and geography, which is broken down to include “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status.”
Following the live interviews, and with a rigorous open process, the Auditor finally narrowed the field to the final 60 applicants. In this, the Auditor’s personnel had done an admirable job. When there weren’t enough diverse applicants, they extended the deadlines. And when they were reviewing applicants, they were rigorous in their focus on having a set of finalists that met all the criteria.
The demographic report on the auditor’s final 60 applicants showed a fair representation by regions of the state, healthy percentages of Latino, Asian and African American applicants, and three of the finalists were from the LGBTQ community.
Of course, with things like this, there were bound to be some oddities, like this finding from Republican redistricting consultant Matt Rexroad, who noted that among the final Republicans in the Auditor’s pool, none were from Orange County, the once-heart of the GOP in California.
While the Latino pool had been cut in half, there was still a 90.4% chance, according to Jonathan Stein of Common Cause,
The State Auditor’s panel handed the 60-applicant list to the Legislature, where the majority and minority leaders in the Assembly and Senate are allowed to remove six each, for a total of 24.
The legislative strikes did take a toll on this diversity, particularly among the Latino portion, which went from 14 of the applicants down to seven that would go to the random draw. This included two Republicans, one independent and four Democrats who were identified as Hispanic/Latino or Mexican descent.
While the Latino pool had been cut in half, there was still a 90.4% chance, according to Jonathan Stein of Common Cause, that the random draw would select at least one Latino. Yet, against those odds, and much to the consternation of many involved in the process, the first eight selected included zero Latino commissioners.
This set off a bit of a firestorm with former Majority Leader Kevin De Leon kicking it off in a tweet in which he stated, “The next 6 members – chosen by this first 8 – MUST be Latino. Anything less will be unacceptable.” A subsequent Sacramento Bee editorial included De Leon and every former Speaker and Senate Pro Tem since Y2K piling on and demanding more Latinos to advance diversity on the commission.
The commission must choose these remaining commissioners to “ensure the commission reflects the state’s diversity.
While the rules won’t allow the full six remaining to come from the Latino pool (because they have to pick two from each party, and there is only one Latino in the independent pool), we could see five if both Latino Republicans are selected, along with the one Latino independent, and two of the four Democratic Latinos. And these would all be extremely highly qualified commissioners with a variety of skill sets important to the commission work.
Yet, it won’t be as simple as picking the first five Latinos they can find.
The commission must choose these remaining commissioners to “ensure the commission reflects the state’s diversity, including, but not limited to, racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity”
If they did manage to pick the two Latino Republicans still in the pool, and the one Latino independent, those three are all from Northern California, introducing a geographic imbalance.
They could rectify that by picking a Democratic Latino from L.A.County and another Democratic Latino from San Diego, or even an Asian from Orange County, but that becomes a narrow set of applicants among which they would have the option to select.
And while the commission is required to consider diversity, the Voters FIRST Act provides that that the final six commissioners cannot be selected by using specific formulas or specific ratios to achieve it.
If they do it the same way as 2010, they will also be selecting these all as a slate – creating a set of six commissioners and voting on them as a whole.
For example, a commissioner can’t say, “We need to have five Latinos because that is the only way for us to achieve a diversity that is consistent with the percentage of Latinos who are of Voting Age in this state.” While an advocate on the outside can state that, and probably should, a commissioner cannot use that express justification without violating the constitution.
Further complicating things, the vote structure is a kind of super-super-majority – the selection of the remaining six commissioners must be made by at least five votes of the first eight and must include at least two votes from each of the Democratic and Republican pools, and one of the independents.
If they do it the same way as 2010, they will also be selecting these all as a slate – creating a set of six commissioners and voting on them as a whole. This creates a lot of different voting scenarios depending on how the sets are comprised and where votes can be obtained for the additional members.
In the 2010 process the Lucky Eight included just one Latino, and they selected another two, for a total of three Latinos serving on that commission. This has to be the absolute floor for this commission: If they don’t achieve this bare minimum, they will be dogged by concerns about the diversity in their work product for the next 18 months.
Will they work together, isolated in a bubble, disregarding the cacophony of noise from the public, elected officials, the media and advocacy groups?
They could go so far as selecting five Latinos, but that will take real work given the narrow pathway to achieve that, the super-majority voting requirement and nature of the slates.
These first eight commissioners must also deal with the fact that they are setting the culture of their body, their deliberative style, and how they will work with other interested groups throughout the process.
Will they work together, isolated in a bubble, disregarding the cacophony of noise from the public, elected officials, the media and advocacy groups? Or will they seek to appease these voices, and conduct themselves in a way that appears to be more self-aware and, dare we say, political?
The last commission did an excellent job both in the technical aspects of drawing lines and in their acknowledgment of, but not fealty to, the outside voices. I was among many who advocated before the commission, and those of us involved quickly realized that the commission was open to input but didn’t feel bound to respond to every last action that someone urged them to take.
This is a first test for the new commission, and many will be watching.
The first three days of hearings start Tuesday and can be viewed here.
Editor’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is the creator of the CA120 column, vice president of Political Data and owner of Redistricting Partners, a redistricting consulting firm.