So the voters of California set up a new commission to do a specific task and that commission did exactly what it was supposed to do. What happens next? The losers whine even though their losses were completely predictable and partly self-inflicted.
The task voters set for the first-time-ever Citizens Redistricting Commission via two ballot propositions: shake up politics by taking the every-10-years redrawing of congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization districts out of the hands of politicians.
The results now show just how well the much-maligned process of direct democracy can work.
The voters’ will was done. Politicians could not pick and choose their voters to ensure their own survival, as before. Instead, voters will soon change many more political faces than they have at any time since early in California’s statehood. This state’s biggest political shakeup in memory arrives next year.
Which leaves some people unhappy, especially Republicans and a few Latino activists. Republicans heartily backed Propositions 11 and 20 because they didn’t want Democratic legislators and a Democratic governor deciding their fate. Now the GOP acts stunned because the new districts actually reflect the Democrats’ large edge in voter registration. Buyer’s remorse, some call it. Yet, four of the five registered Republicans on the commission backed the plan.
Which means the fault, dear Republicans, is not in the remap, but in yourselves for refusing to make changes that could have grown your party.
Meanwhile, Latinos gripe there aren’t enough districts guaranteed to elect their compadres. Too bad. This happened partly because the state’s Hispanic population is no longer as concentrated in a few locales as it was even 10 years ago. Integration makes it harder to design political districts for the exclusive benefit of one ethnic group.
There will surely be shakeups in both the state Senate (whether or not a Republican-sponsored referendum overturns the new lines for that legislative house) and the state Assembly. But those changes won’t seem very shocking because term limits already ensure a constant flow of new faces there.
The lack of term limits in Congress, though, will make the impending shakeup in the state’s 53-member congressional delegation far more dramatic.
Some new congressional districts will likely see battles between titans, such as in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, where liberal Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman will likely face off in a primary pitting a 27-year House veteran against a 14-year incumbent. If that pair ends up as the top two vote-getters in the primary, their race won’t be decided until the fall runoff. That would let the district’s minority of Republican voters decide the outcome, precisely the intent of the new top-two system, which aims to force politicians to reach across party lines.
Another potential match-up of longtime incumbents looms in southeast Los Angeles County, eastern San Bernardino County and northern Orange County, where Republican Ed Royce might be matched against fellow GOP veteran Gary Miller, with Democrats potentially casting the deciding votes.
There will also be at least four Republicans forced to run in new districts with Democratic majorities, something they never had to contend with in the past. This could lead to retirements for longtime Republicans like Elton Gallegly of Ventura County and David Dreier of San Dimas, while veteran San Joaquin Valley Democrat Dennis Cardoza may retire rather than face off in a primary against fellow incumbent Jim Costa of Fresno.
Other Congress members are moving. Two-term Democrat Jerry McNerney will move across the hills of the Coast Range from Pleasanton to an as-yet undetermined locale in San Joaquin County.
“After spending so much time in San Joaquin County (much of it in his old district), it truly is my home,” McNerney told a reporter. It will have to be, because population shifts give the Bay area fewer districts than under previous remaps.
In an entirely different area, newly-elected Los Angeles Democrat Janice Hahn might do battle next June (and possibly in November, too) against three-termer Laura Richardson in a newly drawn district that includes much of Southern California’s black populace. Ordinarily, that would be an advantage for either Richardson or likely new entrant Isadore Hall of Compton, both African-Americans. Hall is now a state assemblyman. But Hahn, like her late father, a Los Angeles County supervisor for more than 30 years, has always done well among black voters.
Altogether, the new plan puts about one-third of California’s incumbent members of Congress in danger.
Meanwhile, at least 12 current state legislators, including Hall, are looking to run for Congress in the newly-drawn districts, some opposing one another.
Add it all up, and the redistricting commission probably deserves a hearty “well done” and a pat on the back. It has created some psychologically and politically healthy uncertainty within the state’s often-smug and overly secure political class – precisely what most voters wanted.