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New redistricting initiative targets Congressional seats

The main backer of a voter-approved, independent commission that was created to draw the political boundaries of legislative districts has filed a new initiative – this one to determine the lines for California's 53 congressional districts.

Charles T. Munger Jr., son of a billionaire and key supporter of the November 2008 Proposition 11 redistricting initiative, on Wednesday asked the state attorney general's office for an official title and summary for his proposal.

The new initiative, called the "Voters First Act for Congress," is aimed at the November 2010 ballot, and requires permission from the secretary of state's office before circulating signature petitions. The initiative, which would amend the California constitution, needs about 694,000 valid signatures of voters to qualify for the ballot.

Munger donated $1 million to the campaign for Proposition 11, which was approved by less than 200,000 votes out of nearly 12,000,000 votes cast. Other donors includes a number of government reform groups, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Netflix founder Reed Hastings and former eBay executive Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor next year. Gov. Schwarzenegger's campaign team contributed $2.44 million.

Proposition 11, using a complex screening process, sets up a 14-member, independent commission to draw the boundaries of 80 Assembly districts, 40 Senate seats and four Board of Equalization districts. An attempt to include congressional districts in the mix was beaten back, largely from opposition from state and national Democrats – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – who vowed to heavily finance the opposition effort if Congress was included. The commission has not yet been set up.

Until Proposition 11 was approved, state and congressional boundaries were drawn by the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. Now, only the congressional seats are drawn by state lawmakers.

Under Proposition 11, the commission will fashion the legislative and Board of Equalization seats with data from the 2010 census. The new districts are intended to be finished by late 2011 in time for the 2012 elections.

Kathay Feng, who heads California Common Cause and was the author of Proposition 11, said her group has not taken a position on the latest initiative.

"It's not our initiative but it certainly is on our radar," Feng said. "We've always looked at reforming redistricting from top to bottom."

Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento political consultant and a former top communications adviser to legislative Democratic leaders, questioned the wisdom of including Congress in the redistricting mix.

"The biggest issue we have is that we have not had a chance to see what was put in place last year. It could be a totally dysfunctional system that will go to the courts," he said. "It could be a huge loss to the state and set off a flurry of campaigns."

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