It’s now all but official: The crybaby-of-the-year award for 2011 has to go to the California Republican Party for its sustained gripes about redistricting.
The GOP’s latest weeping jag began when the investigative-reporting service ProPublica, mostly published on the Internet, sent out a lengthy story titled “How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.”
What this report didn’t note was the fact that some Republicans also tried to bamboozle the independent, bipartisan panel made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, with a few independents tossed in for good measure.
While ProPublica documents the fact that Democrats held a meeting in Washington, D.C. to figure out ways to manipulate the commission and the eventual district lines, it doesn’t mention that Republicans tried similar tactics. Maybe the GOP wasn’t as effective, but both parties were well within their rights. Nothing barred anyone from speaking out at commission hearings.
The idea was for Democrats to have some of their activists testify at commission hearings as representatives of interests other than the party. Their shills would identify themselves as part of certain ethnic communities without mentioning they were also lobbyists or otherwise interested in keeping Democrats in office. That’s disingenuous, but far from illegal.
SomeRepublicans did much the same, including paid staffers of officeholders testifying without mentioning who employed them.
Can anyone really be surprised that either party would resort to this stuff? Naturally, both parties did whatever they could to influence the redistricting outcome. Which made the ProPublica story a classical ho-hummer, something that should make readers yawn rather than shocking them awake. Maybe that’s why almost all newspapers in California gave the story minimal play.
Meanwhile, Republicans like state party Chairman Tom Del Becarro were in full whine from the moment it appeared. “No fair-minded person can now say the process or the result was fair,” he moaned. “I am calling for an immediate and thorough investigation.
ProPublica made precious little effort to examine Republican efforts to sway the commission, settling for a comment from a college professor saying “Republicans really didn’t do anything.” There also was precious little effort to assess what real effect testimony at public hearings may have had.
“As a commission, we ran a very transparent process, so some of the allegations made in the story are easily disproved by a look at our website and the criteria we used,” Connie Galambos-Malloy, one of four “decline-to-state” voters on the 14-member commission, told a reporter. “If the voters investigate, it’s clear that most of the allegations are dead wrong.”
And Commissioner Stanley Forbes told ProPublica he and his colleagues knew that “When you’ve got so many people…making comments, some of them are going to be political shills. We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”
Other commissioners said they were presented so much information that no one submission held any particular sway over them.
But the real reason the Republican outcry following the ProPublica report amounts to little more than loud whining is the numbers: While the largest growth among voters over the last few years came in the “decline-to-state” category, the biggest drops have afflicted the GOP.
The latest voter registration numbers put Republican registration barely over 30 percent of all registered voters. Democrats have about 42 percent more registrants. So why would the GOP figure it could hold onto all the congressional and legislative seats it was handed in the gerrymander deal of 2001, the last time California’s district lines changed?
Given the raw numbers, even if courts eventually supervise drawing of different district lines, they are bound to look much like the commission’s. Yes, a few incumbents tossed into the same districts as current colleagues might benefit from a re-do, but the party couldn’t gain much overall. Especially when you factor in legal requirements like keeping communities of interest (read: ethnic groups) together and making sure minorities get an opportunity for a fair share of the total seats, plus the redistricting law’s preference for keeping cities intact within districts.
Yes, the GOP surely must feel chagrined, considering its fervent support of the ballot proposition that created the redistricting commission. But that’s little more than buyer’s remorse, as Republicans didn’t exactly get what they hoped for when voters took redistricting away from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
But it hardly constitutes wrongdoing for either party to try for as good a deal as possible. So the Republican whining really means the GOP knows it was outdone in redistricting, just as it’s been outworked and outperformed at every step of the political process in California for decades.