Were candidates running for nothing?

The 2010 elections had exciting and close races, with millions of dollars spent to elect candidates on both sides of the aisle.  

But for most of the winners, their election will be a brief victory: With the defeat of Proposition 27, a voter-approved commission next year will redraw political boundaries that should significantly change the district lines for the Assembly and Senate.

Under this redistricting, the state commission will be required to work toward districts that are geographically compact, preserve communities of interest, and avoid splitting cities and counties.  In addition, they will not be able to know where incumbent legislators or candidates live.  While the Legislature has in past years been able to draw lines to maintain incumbents, this will not be an option for the commission.

As a result, there are a number of candidates and incumbents who will have their victory party tainted by fear of new legislative lines that disrupt their once easy political futures.
Tim Donnelly is a Republican who rode a wave of Tea Party support to an upset victory in the Republican primary for the 59th Assembly District.  He comes from a small town in the San Bernardino mountains and will represent one of the most gerrymandered seats in the legislature.  His new seat includes five area codes and connects to nine different assembly seats.

Under the new redistricting rules this district should be dissolved, and his residence is very likely to fall into the district of recent AD 63 Republican primary winner Mike Morrell, setting up a contentious primary among freshman incumbents.

In Contra Costa County, the 15th Assembly District is a similarly gerrymandered seat that includes four counties.  It is on a collision course with the neighboring 11th AD.  The victor there was Democratic Susan Bonilla, who is from Concord.  The 15th AD incumbent Joan Buchanan, who was just re-elected, is just eight miles south of Bonilla. It would be nearly impossible to draw an Assembly seat under the new rules that wouldn’t put the members from the 11th and 15th into the same district.

This pattern is repeated up and down the state.   Both Linda Halderman, the Republican in AD 29 and Henry Perea Jr., the Democrat in AD 31 live in within the city of Fresno.  The current district lines divide this city, but a commission redraw is likely to draw it as one complete Assembly seat.

In addition to these districts where newly elected Assemblymembers will find a battle in 2012, there is an equal number that will find that their district has shifted away from them – forcing them to either relocate to maintain residence in their current seat or stay and run in a district they have been moved into.

In the South Bay of Los Angeles, Democrat Betsy Butler from Mar Vista will be the new representative from the 53rd Assembly District, a seat that spans along the L.A. coastline from Venice to Torrance.  Yet, most expect AD 53 to drop south and become a Torrance to Rancho Palos Verdes seat, making it more conservative and putting Butler’s residence into the current AD 41 that heads north of Santa Monica and will be vacated by Assemblymember Julia Brownley.

Similarly, Assemblymember Mike Gatto is the new representative of AD 43, a Burbank/Glendale/LA seat that has for years maintained a strong Democratic edge by capturing Latinos from Los Feliz and half of Silverlake where Gatto lives.  The commission should move these voters and Gatto to a vacant LA-based seat to unify Silverlake and Los Feliz with other North East L.A. communities.  He will have to choose between moving to Glendale, or staying in Silverlake to run for the L.A.-based AD45 which will be vacated in 2012 by Gil Cedillo.

Current incumbents are not spared the impact of a state commission redraw of legislative lines.  

In San Diego, Marty Block fought to win a second term representing AD 78 that blends eastern San Diego with half of Chula Vista.  It is expected that in a redraw his home near San Diego State University would be pulled into a city-based district, while Chula Vista and other eastern San Diego communities would become their own seat.  For his last term he would have to either move out of the city of San Diego, or run in a seat that has less than 20 percent overlap with his current seat.

In Riverside County, which spans 2,000 square miles, incumbents Brian Nestande and Manuel Perez represent different districts, even though they live less than 15 miles from each other.   One has to expect that they will be drawn together creating a major General Election battle.

While candidates and returning members celebrate their elections in November, and enjoy the pomp and circumstance of their swearing ins come December, they should start reaching out to realtors, demographers and map drawers to navigate a crisis just beyond the horizon.

And Sacramento organizations should prepare for legislators that will be fixated by the movements of district lines that will be out of their control.

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