Opinion: Redistricting reform impacts justify high spending

As the campaign against the redistricting commission heats up, legislators and others with a stake in the current system are fighting to keep control of the line drawing process.   As Capitol Weekly reporter John Howard recently pointed out in his article “Political fight over redistricting spills into the Capitol, ballot,” this battle between the outsiders and the insiders is becoming one of the biggest fights of the year.

 To date, the “insiders” have spent over six million in an attempt to shut down the new redistricting commission and block a separate ballot measure from extending their reach to congressional seats.  It is likely that this spending is just the ante.  The “outsiders” to date have also spent millions, and according to Charles Munger, the author and principal funder of redistricting reforms, there is more coming.   For outsiders seeking to shake up the status quo and dislodge some insiders, this could be some well justified spending.

 Under the criteria set by Prop 11 for the state’s redistricting commission, legislative lines will undergo drastic changes, threatening the comfortable re-election of dozens of members.  If extended to Congressional seats it could upend California’s congressional delegation and create a wave of changes there, too.

 While most political observers talk about redistricting as an incremental adjustment to the edges of existing districts, those with redistricting experience know the commission would have to ditch the current lines, and start with a fresh map.  

In Southern California, the City of Los Angeles has had a population growth of 3.5 perecent, more than 5-points lower than the state average.  In contrast, Riverside has had a 37.5 percent growth.  This shift of population will push Los Angeles legislative districts to the South and East. In total, the County of LA should lose one full Assembly seat and half of a Senate district.

 This is a big change, but we would see this shift away from the urban core even if the Legislature was drawing the lines. The volatility of the commission redistricting is in the fine print of Prop. 11.  Based on the measure passed by voters, the commission, comprised of entirely lay board members, will be drawing lines that seek to keep cities and counties whole and keep districts geographically compact.  Furthermore, the commission must do this without taking into account either the home of the incumbent legislator or partisan advantages.

The lines drawn by the State Legislature in 2001 purposefully divided the City of LA’s voters to make more Democratic seats and protect incumbent members.  To make the districts safe they picked and pulled the City of LA into a whopping 12 Senate and 17 Assembly districts. Yet, based on population and Citizens Commission rules the City of LA should have just 4 Senators and 8 Assembly Members.  Moving 17 representatives out of the city core cannot be done by simply massaging the current lines.

 While this effect is greatest in Los Angeles, other parts of the state are not immune.  The City of Sacramento has enough population for one Assemblymember, but currently has three.  San Diego has been similarly divided, giving it five Assembly seats when it is just short of the population needed for three.  These entire regions will be affected by a redraw that works within the new guidelines.

It becomes quickly apparent that current legislators have a lot to be concerned about, no matter if they are from Pleasanton or Palm Desert, currently in a safe Republican or Democratic seat, or sitting in a district that hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years.  The commission will not know where legislators live, they must follow criteria more strict than the courts or Legislature have ever followed, and the commission members will be laypersons who have never drawn political lines, and never will again.

 With this great unknown, and the potential havoc that the commission will create for the Legislature and Congressional delegation, it’s totally logical that both sides will be pouring money into a battle that will reshape if not reform California’s politics for the next decade.

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