Electoral surprises loom in 2012 with new districts

Next year, the first time since 1992 that legislative and congressional candidates will run in districts not drawn by politicians, there likely will be races in which more districts are competitive, local GOP fundraising efforts are hampered and organized labor may get heavily involved in Republican primaries.

The timing of the presidential primary – a stand-alone election currently set for February – will play a critical role in local races if it is consolidated with the state’s primary in June.

Those are some of the issues raised in a look-ahead to the 2012 elections jointly authored by GOP strategist Jim Brulte and Democratic consultant Garry South. Capitol Weekly reviewed a copy of their study which was released last month in Indian Wells at a gathering of the partners of California Strategies.

Brulte and South said that population shifts will result in the consolidation – or reduction — of districts in the San Francisco Bay area and increase in the number of Central Valley and Inland Empire seats, a view shared by other political scientists. A similar issue arose in 1992, in a court-ordered redrawing.

“Many members will be running in redrawn districts,” the study notes. “In 1992, then Assemblyman Brulte’s district was divided into five different Assembly districts and he ran in a new district almost 80 percent of which he had not represented before.”

Changes in law since the last redistricting may have dramatic impacts on the outcome of local races.

For example, with the open primary rules under Proposition 14 some of the Democrats’ closest allies, especially labor unions, likely will have an advantage.

“If labor does engage in a serious way, this will have very far-reaching ramifications for elections and for legislative decision-making,” they wrote.

“When the business community gets involved in a Democratic primary election, unions, trial lawyers and environmentalists mount a counter effort. As of today, there is no identifiable GOP funding operation to counter labor involvement in ‘GOP’ primaries.”

The fundraising outlook for Republicans in congressional districts is not so dire because the GOP controls the house and Republicans “should have at least financial parity if not an outright advantage.”

History, however, is on the side of the Democrats because the GOP “has not experienced a net pickup of legislative seats in a presidential election since 1984,” the report noted.
The timing of the presidential election also is a major factor next year.

If it is consolidated, which is likely, there will be a dramatically higher turnout for the state races and that is all but certain to affect the outcomes. For example, in June 2008 the presidential primary turnout was 57.7 percent, more than double the 28.2 percent turnout in the June legislative primary.

A proposal to push the presidential primary back to June is publicly portrayed as a cost-saving device and a sensible way of opting out of long-standing efforts to push the primary ever forward on the calendar.

Presumably, it also could help Democrats maximize their numbers, which tend to improve with larger turnouts. Legislation containing moving the primary to June easily passed the Legislature on a bipartisan vote and is on the governor’s desk.

Although Republicans believe the new districts will be fairer than those drawn by politicians, “there is a huge potential downside risk for the GOP as well. If the Democratic Party’s consistently overwhelming financial advantage is not countered at the local level, it is possible that Democrats (will) obtain a two-thirds majority in one or both house of the Legislature in 2012.”

The two-thirds majority is critical in the Capitol, because two-thirds majorities are necessary to raise taxes. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature but are shy of the two-thirds majority.

New districts drawn by the voter-approved independent redistricting commission are scheduled to be in effect next year. The new districts will replace those currently in use that were approved as part of an agreement a decade ago between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, whose leaders endorsed the maps to protect incumbents. Brulte, one of the authors of the new analysis, was the leading GOP player in negotiating that agreement.

The demographics have under gone dramatic changes in California. The Latino populations of half of California’s counties increased between 40 percent and 100 percent during the 2000-2010 decade, and all of California counties gained Latinos except one – tiny Alpine County in the Sierra.

For Republicans, that growth and the shifts in populations mean that it may get increasingly difficult to find safe seats.

“You begin to realize that there is really no place to go in California to make lilly-white Republican seats,” South said in a separate interview.

Traditionally, redistricting has been one of the most bitterly partisan activities in the Capitol. Both major political parties have fought efforts to curtail their redistricting authority, although a number of good-government groups have long urged independent map drawing.

Under the law, districts must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes. Until recently those districts were drawn by the Legislature, controlled by Democrats. Voters approved an independent commission to draw legislative districts, and last November they approved expanding that commission’s role to include California’s 53 congressional districts.

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