Opinion: 2011 will be a landmark year for California’s congressional Republicans

In November, Republicans rode a national tidal wave as more than sixty congressional seats changed hands.  The dramatic change shifted the balance of power in Congress.  While the wave appeared to crest at California’s border, California congressional Republicans have three reasons to look forward to 2011.

First, California congressional Republicans maintained their seats, despite the best efforts of Democrat leadership.  The Democrats from the outset targeted two incumbent Republican seats – Congressmembers Dan Lungren and Mary Bono-Mack.  Democrats perceived the two incumbents as vulnerable as both faced challenging elections in 2010 with Democrat leadership handpicking opponents.

The Republican Congressmembers’ opposition were very similar.  The opposition were well funded with each campaign spending well in excess of a $1 million.  The opposition ran aggressive attack campaigns on the incumbents.  Plus, they had significant support of Democrat leadership and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

While Democrats statewide were winning by double digits, Congressmembers Bono-Mack and Lungren won handily.  Lungren won by nearly 8 percent margin and Bono-Mack by nearly 10 percent – sending the message that strong, fiscally conservative candidates can win in California.

Second, on the precipice of leadership change in the Nation’s Capitol, California Republicans will be taking vital roles in the new Congress.  Congressman Kevin McCarthy, one-time leader of the Assembly Republicans, will be serving as Majority Whip.  In this position, Congressman McCarthy will be the third highest position for the House Republicans and becoming one of the up-and-coming national leaders.

Other California congressmembers will be serving as Chairs of key committees. Congressman David Dreier will serve as Chair of the powerful Rules Committee. Congressman Darrell Issa will serve as Chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Congressman Buck McKeon will Chair the Armed Services Committee.

Even the Democrats prime targets in 2010 will chair committees in 2011 as Congressman Dan Lungren will chair the House Administration Committee.  In this capacity, he will serve as oversight of federal elections and the day-to-day functions of the House of Representatives.  Meanwhile, Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack will chair of the Commerce Manufacturing & Trade Subcommittee where she will trade between states, the travel and tourism industry and product safety. 

Third, 2011 marks the year of redistricting.  Every decade, following the census update, state and federal legislative districts are redrawn in order to comply with the constitutional requirement of one-man, one-vote.  Traditionally, the party in power ensures their districts remain safe seats by drawing favorable districts.  For example, in the last redistricting process one Democrat’s congressional district was drawn to span three Central Coast counties by hugging more than 180 miles of coastline but never moving inland more than 20 miles.  In some stretches, the district is merely a mile wide in order to ensure a Democrat seat.  Meanwhile, the remainder of the three counties was dispersed among other congressional seats.  

With the passage of Proposition 20, the Democrat controlled state legislature will not be able to gerrymander the districts.  Instead, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-member volunteer citizens commission, will draw impartial lines.  

With the recent census number complete, California’s growth was on par with the rest of the Nation.  This means that California will continue to have 53 congressmambers.  However, the congressional districts will grow from roughly 640,000 as drawn in 2001 to more than 700,000 in 2011.  

While it is not known exactly how the districts will be drawn, it is clear that the state’s growth occurred in traditional Republican strongholds.   Recently, the Rose Institute examined California’s congressional districts.  The Institute found that 34 California congressional districts have less than 700,000 population currently – meaning that the districts will need to expand.  Democrats currently represent twenty-nine of the districts. 

In addition, the Bay Area, traditionally a stronghold for liberal Democrats, witnessed five of its ten counties actually lose population between 2000 and 2010. For example, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi represents the smallest overall population in the state and needs to expand her district by more than 120,000 Californians.  With significant drops in population, there is a greater likelihood of consolidating Bay Area legislative districts, now that the districts cannot be gerrymandered.

By comparison, 19 congressional districts have a population exceeding the new population requirements.  Republicans currently hold fourteen of those districts. In fact, the report found that the largest population growths occurred in the traditional Republican areas of the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and Orange and San Diego counties.  Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack has the district with the largest population.  Her district will have to shave more than 255,000 Californians in the redistricting process.

The report went on to find that Democratic Congressional districts are under populated by an average of 30,000 persons, while the average Republican district is overpopulated by 54,000 persons.  All of this means that the Bay Area will likely see the contraction of congressional district.  Meanwhile, there is a high likelihood of new districts in Republican strongholds and great chances for Republican gains in 2012.

While 2010 did not bring a Republican tidal wave, 2011 looks to bring a strong current of fairness into the redistricting process.  The combination of fair districts and Republicans holding key committees in the House should lead to Republican gains in the ebb and flow of elections.

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