Group effort pushed minority outreach for Redistricting Commission

The promotion tagline for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is “We draw the lines.” It might have also come with the less snappy, “We recruit the minority applicants.”

Both supporters and opponents of Proposition 11, the Governor-supported 2008 initiative that created the Redistricting Commission, agree that the State Auditor’s office was not given nearly enough money to complete the tasks given to it by the voters. The state Legislature has allocated only $3 million so far — about as much might be needed for a decent statewide minority outreach effort alone, according to experts.

In the earlier stages of recruitment, nearly two-thirds of the applicants were white males.

The response was the mobilization of a kind of do-it-yourself democracy, as many different foundations and political groups organized recruitment efforts for the applicant pool. This resulted in a late surge of applications, disproportionately from minority candidates.

The auditor’s applicant review panel will meet for the first time today, trying to narrow down 30,000 applications — 11,000 from minority candidates — seeking 14 spots on the Commission. While this was perhaps not the result some were hoping for, it did represent a major improvement over where recruitment stood a few weeks ago.

Much of this effort was funded by nine different grants from the James Irvine Foundation, totaling over $1.5 million, to several independent groups. The nonpartisan political reform group California Forward didn’t directly give money, but established a division to aid with minority recruitment for the commission. These groups helped unify efforts among a wide variety of groups representing minority communities.

“Having a sense that there were not the kind of resources needed to do deep outreach in minority communities, we thought we could provide some value,” said Amy Dominquez-Arms, director of the Irvine Foundation’s California Democracy program.

In some ways the efforts are similar to a modern political campaign in California, with candidates and independent expenditure groups working towards the same goals, but in parallel efforts.

One difference, however, was that these groups were allowed to communicate with the auditor’s office. The auditor, already involved in overseeing the billions in stimulus fund coming in from the federal government, had to reallocate some resources to the commission. It used much of the money it did have to contract with Ogilvy Public Relations, a large national PR firm, to run a general website and advertising campaign.

“There is a need for a general outreach campaign that other groups can tap into,” said Malka Kopell, redistricting implementation project director for California Forward. She added, “It’s helpful if people hear it in more than one place. That’s particularly important when you’re trying to get people to do something that requires a lot from people.”

The auditor’s office said the big surge came after Jan. 28, when the ad effort went to the radio airwaves, said spokeswoman Margarita Fernandez. She also noted the auditor’s office put off the final deadline, from Feb. 12 to Feb. 16. Two thirds of applications came in during the last two and half weeks of the application period.

“We just noticed there was a surge, period,” Fernandez said.
But there were some definite differences. An initial group of 2,032 applications came in during the first three days after the application period opened on Dec. 15. Of these, 64 percent were white males, 2.8 percent were black, 8.2 percent were Latinos, and 3.6 percent were Asian.

By January 15, midway through the process, white males had dropped to 54.6 percent of the pool, while other groups climbed—African-Americans to 6.2 percent, Latinos to 9.5 percent and Asians to 4.4 percent. In the final tally, blacks made up 8.3 percent of applicants, Latinos 11.5 percent, and Asians 5.4 percent. Just under half—49.98 percent—were white men.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), recieved $530,000 in grants from Irvine, nearly half of which was redistributed to other groups. The group’s Eugene Lee and Deanna Kitamura ran a recruitment program that included 25 workshops in the nine counties with the largest Asian-American populations, mostly in the Bay Area and urban southern California.

According to their figures, there were only 207 Asian and Pacific Islander applicants as of Jan. 13. By the time the application period closed, there were 1,291.
“Certainly we’d like to think our efforts played a key role in the large increase in Asian applicants,” Lee said.

The pair said they also occasionally contacted specific individuals who had been brought to their attention, including college professors and people who had been active in community groups. This also points out how this effort is different from a minority outreach effort that might be used in a political campaign or consumer marketing effort. Applicants on the panel should be educated and hopefully come with certain skill sets—but rules in Prop. 11 also bar them from being too directly involved already in the political process.

“It’s really directed to a very small segment of the population—very acculturated, English dominated,” said John Echeveste, a partner in VPE PR, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in reaching out to Latinos on everything from consumer ad campaigns to politic issues. His company was not involved with the redistricting effort, but has worked on a wide variety of causes, including an indirect effort on behalf of the No on 8 campaign in 2008.

In order to reach these people, it’s most efficient to reach out to the community and advocacy groups that already exist, said Patricia Perez, also a partner in VPE.

“These are not groups you need to form and organize,” Perez said. “They’re just fragmented because they have never been included in the process.”

Indeed, much of the outreach effort to Latinos focused on established groups, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, which received $325,000 in Irvine grants, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

This is also the approach used by Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP. Huffman said she tapped into her 52 local units and relationships with numerous other African-American groups in order to seek out qualified applicants. In January, she held a retreat where 75 local chapter presidents and executives committee members sat around on laptops and brainstormed ways to get people involved. She also recorded a YouTube video encouraging people to apply.

When talking about the Commission, Huffman delved into the kind of raw politics calculus that all communities must be thinking about, but many are loathe to actually talk about, noting that she was hoping at least one or two seats on the Commission would be held by African-Americans.  

“You start thinking, God, what’s gonna happen if we don’t have people in the pool?” Huffman said.

Of all the racial minorities in the state, it’s the one that it projected to be a majority by around 2040 that has traditionally been the most problematic. Latinos make up over a third of the population but only about 18 percent of registered voters.

Ogilvy brought in the political consulting firm Acosta/Salazar to help with Latino recruitment. The firm’s Roger Salazar said they sought to increase general awareness of the Commission among Latinos by getting stories in La Opinion and
other media outlets. One big coup was getting the subject onto the popular “Voz y Vota” news program on Univision not once but twice.

“We thought 10 percent would be a very solid achievement,” Salazar said. “We were able to get there.”

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