Sunday, June 12, 2011

Redistricting California by Commission

Anyone who has paid even a little attention to Politics, especially State Politics, has heard of the term “Gerrymandering.” It is a term that has more than just a negative connotation surrounding it, it is seen as an evil practice that totally circumvents the democratic process.

As a bit of a brief history and civics lesson, whenever there is a government based on representative bodies, there needs to be a way to identify who should be represented and how. Generally a larger political area, such as a state, will be broken down into districts that are based either on geography or, in most instances, population demographics.

Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing the district lines in such a way that the “seat” for that district will be reliably one party or the other. The end result of this practice is decreased competition, increased margin of victory and increased voter apathy.

In California, traditionally the elected officials of the State Legislature drew the districts. There was such mistrust as a result of strangely shaped districts being put out there that accusations of incumbent gerrymandering flew everywhere. This week a “new” and independent commission has released their first draft of the new districts in California. The commission members consist of five democrats, five republicans and four independents all chosen at random to try and increase their independence from any particular party.

The commission comes as a result of past efforts of progressive and initiative based politics in 2008 and 2010, specifically Proposition 11 and Prop 20.

As a result of the citizen driven effort, Congressmembers and state legislators throughout California have noticed that these proposed district changes make their traditionally easily won seats perilous, or that they are now in the same district as other legislators. As mentioned by the San Jose Mercury News;

First-term Assemblywoman Nora Campos, San Jose-centric district in which to seek re-election. A portion of her East San Jose district was placed in a district now represented by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas.

The new maps have caused a lot of controversy, changing the shapes has already meant that some of the representatives are currently residing outside of the districts they represent, a big no-no in California.

Also the changes have represented the actual demographic power changes, as mentioned in the NY Times:

One of the big changes in the map reflects the increasing population of Latinos here. Both Mr. Berman and Mr. Dreier, along with Representative Bob Filner, Democrat of San Diego, would, if this map is approved, be in districts that are predominantly Hispanic, and vulnerable to a challenge by a Hispanic opponent. Mr. Filner announced this week that he would run for mayor of San Diego.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while will remember Filner is someone whose political history I have followed relatively closely while I was living and working in San Diego. This redistricting could sweep in a whole new (or returning) crop of Latino and other minority candidates into office, possibly including former Assemblymember Juan Vargas who has been eyeing Filner's congressional seat for many years now.

Basically, while nothing is set in stone yet, the long term ramifications of this independent redistricting could really shake things up for a while in California politics, up until the parties adjust and grab footholds in the districts. Hopefully, by then it will be time for another round of reorganizing.

Watch for the final maps to come out on July 28th and be certified by August 15th.