By: Tony Quinn
Running out of time, beset by rebellious consultants, and manipulated by partisans, the Citizens Redistricting Commission has decided to exclude citizens from the process. The Commission is going dark.
On Saturday, the Commission voted not to release a second set of draft redistricting maps to the press or the public on July 14 as promised. They also voted not to post maps of the districts they are drawing on their own redistricting website. Despite a $3 million budget and hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to their consultants, the consultants told them they had no time for public maps. Outside groups are being recruited for that task.
Their line drawing staff also has announced that the Commission must be done with its directions by July 20; they will accept no more directions on districts after that -- despite the fact it is three and a half weeks until the Commission is supposed to adopt its final maps. This will allow for no public input on the final maps since their staff will have stopped working. California will get whatever districts their consultants concoct over the next nine days -- like it or not.
Since the release of their first sets of maps on June 10, and resultant uproar from communities that felt ill treated, the Commission has tied itself in knots over racial districting, redrawing the Los Angeles and Bay Area urban cores over and over, while giving the back of its hand to the rest of the state. For much of suburban and rural California, their new districts are far worse than anything the legislature ever drew.
Just take the Senate seats drawn for Sacramento County. Sacramento’s population would allow it less than two full Senate districts, but the Commission’s “visualizations” (all the press and public gets to see these days) divides the county into five different districts. One is within the county; another runs the Delta region off to Lakeport; yet another delivers the east county to a district in Fresno. But my favorites are the one that places Folsom and Fair Oaks into a district with Yreka on the Oregon border, and the one that runs Rancho Cordova off to Red Bluff.
Did anyone ever ask for such absurdities? The public record shows that never in the history of California has Sacramento’s representation been so sliced and diced. If I had my druthers, I’d load this Commission and their staff into a bus and make them drive the two hours from Rancho Cordova to Red Bluff. They could have a five minute pit stop, and then I would force them to drive three more hours to Yreka.
What should they have done? All they needed to do was to look at the Supreme Court Masters plan enacted in 1991. The Masters divided the state into natural regions; in the north state, they ran one district down the coast; one district combined the rural counties, and one district followed the Sierra Range. Sacramento got two compact districts, exactly as it deserved.
Had the Commission regionalized the coast and Bay Area, as they were urged to do but refused, they would have seen that the area is due exactly 18 Assembly districts and nine Senate districts. They could have been easily drawn, but this Commission refused to do so because it has a partisan agenda to create Democratic districts along the coast and deliver a two thirds majority to legislative Democrats. I warned this would happen when they excluded Republicans from their line drawing process, and now it has happened.
GOP Sen. Sam Blakeslee was drawn a district he cannot win that runs from Morgan Hill to San Luis Obispo (Disclosure, I was an expert witness in a lawsuit filed by Morgan Hill challenging this exact district in the 2001 legislative gerrymander.) His Republican colleague, Sen. Tony Strickland, also has a district he cannot win running from eastern Ventura County to Encino in Los Angeles County. In the process, a new Democratic district readymade for Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams is created in Santa Barbara and western Ventura County.
Did all this happen by accident? Of course not. These districts were not drawn by the Commission or its “overworked” staff but by the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a group of political activists working to rid their counties of politicians they do not like. Gabino Aguirre, a Democratic Commission member from Ventura County, who engineered this plan, is on the board of advisors of CAUSE and is a financial contributor.
But the partisanship does not end there. CAUSE also went after freshman Republican Assembly member Jeff Gorell and turned his GOP-leaning district into a Democratic one. Gorell will now go down as the briefest serving legislator in California history; shortly after his election in 2010, Gorell, a lieutenant commander in the Navy reserve, received orders for Afghanistan. He is risking his life for this country while his political enemies back home manipulated this Commission to eliminate his district.
In 2008, Commissioner Aguirre hosted a fund raiser for and made a campaign contribution to the Democrat who ran against Strickland’s wife (the then Assembly member) in 2008, and against Gorell in 2010.
The excuse for this district was to reunite the city of Oxnard, the Democratic core of Ventura County, and something of a holy grail with the Commission. The Commission is supposed to keep cities whole, right? But that does not apply when it comes to Republican cities. They blithely divided up Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County, combining part of it with far off Pasadena in a district that’s far more outrageous than anything the legislature did in that area ten years ago. The upshot is to fracture Los Angeles foothill suburbs, and, guess what, create another Democratic district.
So it is clear why the Commission has now gone dark, satisfied to live out its final weeks in a cocoon surrounded by an “exhausted” professional staff and consultants whose redistricting competence was always in question and whose partisan biases are now apparent.
So what needs to be done with these districts? A referendum must be qualified against these plans if the final districts look anything like they do now. Fortunately for the citizenry, the referendum law was changed by the voters last fall, and all that any group has to do is to collect enough signatures to trigger a referendum and the issue goes immediately to the California Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court staff has already begun making discrete inquiries as to how it might proceed if come this fall redistricting drops into its lap. The law provides plenty of time for the Court to draw districts for the 2012 election.
Having made their process impenetrable to substantive criticism, ignoring meaningful public input or even simple common sense, this Commission has sadly invited upon itself the need to move redistricting to an impartial judiciary.
Tony Quinn, Political Commentator and Former Legislative Staffer