How Democrats Plan to Take Over Local Elected Offices Through Redistricting

Democrat DonkeyA new law setting up a redistricting commission in Los Angeles County is the first move by Democrats hoping to take as tight a grip on local elected offices as they have under the capitol dome.

Dan Walters’ Monday column in the Sacramento Bee did an excellent job of dissecting the flaws in Senate Bill 958 authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara and signed into law by Gov. Brown. The statute sets up a 14-member redistricting commission for Los Angeles County with the commission membership reflecting partisan makeup of county voters. As Walters rightly notes, “It’s a recipe for officially bringing party politics into what officially has been, for many decades, nonpartisan local government.” 

Why the move? Because Republicans who have a terrible track record of electing statewide officers, have fewer and fewer representatives in the Legislature and whose percentage of total voters has dropped to an all time low, do pretty well on the local level. Just under half of locally elected officials in county and city government and other local agencies are Republicans.

Local races don’t designate which party a candidate represents. The Republican brand has taken a hit in California. However, when local officials deal with issues, local voters often embrace solutions offered by Republicans and they are elected to office.

How to undercut this trend of Republicans showing strength at the local level? Change the rules of the game and create a system that favors Democrats. That’s what SB958 does. Expect more of the same as Democratic political strategists attempt to choke off the building of a Republican bench, the goal of Republican party state chairman Jim Brulte, who is attempting to rebuild the party from the bottom up.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Supreme Court Justices Are About To Tip The Scales In California Politics

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

Photo courtesy Envios, flickr

California politics could be shaken up this spring when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decisions in two potentially landmark cases.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought they were keeping the judiciary out of politics, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Today the Supreme Court exercises so much power over our lives that if one of the justices mentions retirement, half the country experiences chest pains. And the stress is not unwarranted: Policies that were created by judges can be reversed by judges.

Right now the Supreme Court is considering whether to change the rules that control state redistricting, and whether to abolish mandatory union dues for public employees. The impact of the two decisions could make California’s predictable elections a lot less predictable.

In the redistricting case, Evenwel v. Abbott, the issue is whether Texas should be allowed — perhaps even required — to draw its legislative district boundaries based on eligible voters instead of total population.

For example, an Assembly district might have a population of half a million people but far fewer citizens who are eligible to vote. The court’s ruling could result in the district’s boundaries being redrawn to take in new geographical areas with more citizens and fewer immigrants. The decision could scramble the political map in Texas and potentially in other states with a high proportion of non-citizens, including California.

Until the mid-20th century, the federal courts stayed out of state redistricting. That changed when Chief Justice Earl Warren decided to get involved.

As governor of California in the 1940s, Warren had opposed a plan to draw district lines based on population instead of geographical area. At the time, rural Senate districts with fewer voters had the same political power as urban districts jammed with voters. The votes of city residents were, in a sense, unequal to the votes of rural residents. Los Angeles was outvoted on everything.

As chief justice, Warren had second thoughts about the fairness of that arrangement. In two landmark decisions, Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, the court imposed a “one person, one vote” standard that required voting districts to have roughly equal populations.

But the Evenwel case could be a new landmark.

The second case that could shake up California politics, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, may determine whether public employees have the right to refuse to pay union dues. Ten California teachers are suing the CTA over the automatic deduction from their paychecks of “agency fees,” or what unions call “fair share fees.”

Public employee unions have had the power to collect fees from non-members ever since the Supreme Court ruled in a 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that mandatory dues were legal as long as no one was forced to pay for a union’s political activities. But the teachers argue that everything the union does is a political activity, because it negotiates with government officials for salaries and benefits paid from tax dollars.

If the court rules against the union, the continuous stream of cash that has flowed from teachers’ paychecks to the California Teachers Association could slow to a trickle. That may limit the CTA’s campaign spending, which for decades has flooded the political landscape to elect union-friendly lawmakers. Other public employee unions could find themselves in the same boat.

The Supreme Court’s decisions could unsettle California politics virtually overnight.

We’ve had some low-turnout elections, but this must be some kind of record. Thirty-eight million people live in California and its future may be decided by nine voters.

 

California officials praise Supreme Court ruling on independent redistricting commissions

A reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Political reformers in California and Arizona and the voters who supported them won a big round at the Supreme Court on Monday, when the justices upheld the use of independent redistricting commissions to draw election districts for members of Congress.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said the Constitution did not prevent states from taking this power away from elected politicians and lodging it in the hands of a nonpartisan board.

The goal is to prevent partisan gerrymandering where lawmakers draw safe seats for their friends and allies. Arizona’s Republican Legislature went to court to challenge the decision of their voters, but they fell one vote short at the high court. …

Click here to read the full article

Court Case Pits Voting Rights of ‘Citizens’ Against ‘Residents’

From the San Diego Union-Tribute, written by Steven Greenhut:

California legislators have over the years been softening the distinction between citizens and noncitizens through a variety of measures that make it harder to deport unauthorized immigrants — and provide them with access to state programs.

While a U.S. Supreme Court case won’t affect a state’s right to pass such measures, it could force state officials to make a firm distinction between citizens and noncitizens in divvying up electoral districts. This Texas voting-rights case, known as Evenwel v. Abbott, could shift power away from poorer, immigrant-heavy urban areas to wealthier and more Republican counties — and from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Legal experts were surprised when, last month, the court decided to accept the case. Critics of that decision, including Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, argue it “could lead to a system of political segregation that only counts three-fifths of our population — and essentially ignores the rest.”

Click here to read the full column

High Court to Decide Whether Legislators Must Draw District Lines

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to dissect an obscure constitutional provision that could prohibit independent commissions from drawing district lines for congressional elections and reassign the task to partisan state legislatures — not just in Arizona, where the case originated, but in California as well.

A broad ruling in favor of the Arizona Legislature, which challenged the redistricting commission created by state voters in 2000, also could overturn other voter-approved state laws that govern federal elections, such as California’s “top two” initiative that established open primary elections followed by runoffs between the two leading vote-getters, regardless of party.

The case is more about power than partisanship. Lining up behind Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature is the National Conference of State Legislatures, which includes California’s Democratic-dominated state house.

On the other side, along with the Obama administration …

Click here to read the full article

Redistricting commission dodging questions

During its press conference Friday announcing the release of redistricting maps, the Citizens Redistricting Commission evaded tough questions and refused to explain why one commissioner, Michael Ward of Fullerton, voted earlier in the day against moving all of the final maps to the public for review.

At the podium, Ward declined to explain his vote, but in a short interview with CalWatchdog afterwards said that he had explained his concerns at the appropriate time earlier in the day and was not sure about the legal ramifications of his sharing his concerns. According to published reports, Ward said “I’m sad to find myself compelled to vote no. In my opinion, the commission failed to fulfill its mandate to strictly apply constitutional criteria and consistently applied race and ‘community of interest’ criteria and sought to diminish dissenting viewpoints.”

Ward made it clear to CalWatchdog that he stands by such concerns and is waiting to see how the process proceeds. The commission will vote to adopt what they call “preliminary final maps” in an Aug. 15 meeting. Other commissioners who spoke said that the commission has exhausted its public review process and will indeed vote to approve the new district lines for U.S. Congress, state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization.

As the commission explains on its Web site, “In November 2008, California voters authorized the creation of the Citizens Redistricting Commission when they passed the Voters FIRST Act, which appeared as Proposition 11. Prior to 2008, California legislators drew the districts.” The goal was to take partisanship out of the redistricting process, yet the new commissioners have been dogged by allegations of inappropriate political activism and conflicts of interest.

An exclusive CalWatchdog series by reporter John Hrabe “reveals that at least one commissioner, Dr. Gabino T. Aguirre, has made multiple political campaign contributions to Democratic candidates — contributions that were previously undisclosed to the Commission; a long history of political activism in support of Latino causes; and an extensive web of connections to a special interest group that has submitted its own redistricting proposals to the commission.”

Hrabe also revealed that “a second member … ,  Jeanne Raya, failed to disclose financial contributions made within the past 18 months to a state political campaign committee . …” Somehow, a commission designed to be nonpartisan and charged with designing fair election districts, allowed left-wing political activists with an apparent political agenda to be among its members and to allegedly use the process to create districts that favor their political outlooks.

Based on the CalWatchdog revelations, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro called on Aguirre to resign from the post for what he termed “gross misconduct in office.” Del Beccaro questioned the fairness of a commission that failed to disclose the political activism of its members.

When one reported asked about allegations of impropriety by Aguirre, Galambos Malloy said, “All of our commissioners have conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and impartiality.” They did not address any of the specific concerns raised by the news reports and by the Republican leadership.

The commission also has been criticized by minority activist groups for not putting together enough Latino-dominant districts and not paying sufficient attention to African-American “communities of interest,” even though the commission must legally follow the federal Voting Rights Act, which dictates rules that enhance minority voting power.

At the press conference, commissioners refused to answer tough questions and focused mainly on their own sacrifices. “If anything was sacrificed in the process, it was our personal lives,” said Michelle DiGuilio of Stockton, referring to the long hours and the time spent away from her children. Vincent Barabba of Santa Cruz added that the rewards were worth the sacrifice and told a touching story about the way that Californians have embraced their diversity.

But when it came to questions about dissent, they kept repeating the mantra about this being an open and transparent process. It seemed more like a photo op than an opportunity to provide details about the inner workings of a commission that has much to say about the future politics of this state.

Jon Fleischman, publisher of the conservative Flashreport, argued Friday morning that the “The commission is likely to spend a good portion of today patting themselves on the back for a job well done. They certainly do deserve credit for spending as much time as they did on this project over the past eight months . …  However, the process was not a smooth one at all.” Fleischman points to self-interested agendas of commission members, unclear handling of Voting Rights Act rules and cast doubts on the much-touted openness of the process.

Commissioners seem to be gearing up for legal challenges and public scrutiny, and those surely will come in the ensuing weeks. Barabba argued that if the lines are that bad, then Californians can challenge them through the state Supreme Court or can launch a referendum drive. Those challenges surely are coming, and it will be interesting to hear what Ward has to say as redistricting critics get into gear.

 

This was originally posted and investigated by our friends over at CalWatchdog.