California Redistricting: What to Know About the Final Maps

California voters have the brand new districts they’ll use to elect their members of Congress and state legislators, after the state’s independent redistricting commission voted unanimously Monday night to approve its final maps.

These districts take effect with the June 2022 primaries and continue for the next decade. Redistricting happens once every 10 years, after every census, to ensure that each district has the same amount of people. It’s the second time that California’s redrawing is being done by a 14-member independent commission. 

But it hasn’t been easy, or without contention.

In addition to balancing population numbers, the commission must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, ensuring that no minority group’s vote is drowned out. And to create fair maps, the commission didn’t consider current district lines and isn’t supposed to weigh partisan politics. In some cases, it puts incumbents into the same district, or forces others to appeal to new voters to be re-elected.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Particularly on the congressional level, that could help shift the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans. In the U.S. House, three California Democrats are among the 23 Democrats nationally who have already opted not to run for re-election in 2022. Combined with redistricting done by Republican-led legislatures in other states, that could tip the House in favor of the GOP

Some California Democrats have blasted the “unilateral disarmament” of their power, though an initial analysis by the Cook Political Report says the new congressional map helps Democrats

The commission’s deliberations have been different from the last redistricting, in 2011, in large measure due to advances in technology, plus social media, particularly Twitter.

In 2021, it is far easier for advocacy groups and others to submit their own maps – and respond to mapping decisions in real time. As they did live line-drawing, commissioners referenced these maps, along with the feedback they were getting.

The commission was under the pressure of a court-ordered deadline to submit the maps to the secretary of state by Dec. 27 despite a nearly six-month delay in the release of census data. In the last few weeks, the panel held a number of marathon sessions late into the night to hear public comment and try to incorporate competing testimony into the maps. 

Commission chairperson Alicia Fernández acknowledged that there were constraints and disagreements along the way, but said she was proud of the commission’s work given the rules they were under.

“There was robust discussion in terms of how these maps should be drawn. We know that not everyone will be happy, but I feel that they are fair maps for Californians,” she told CalMatters.

California Common Cause — which pushed voters to create the independent panel — also defended the commission: “While the process was at times messy, it was an exercise in democracy done in public,” with 150 meetings and 30,000 pieces of public input.

Now, the maps must sit for three days for public input, though no further changes are permitted, said Fredy Ceja, communications director for the commission. In the meantime, the commission will complete its final report to deliver to the secretary of state.

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Congressional Maps Favor Democrats as California Completes Redistricting

WASHINGTON — The process wasn’t always pretty, but California’s redistricting commission has finalized its new map of the state’s congressional districts, largely sparing the Bay Area of major changes and overall favoring Democrats in the state.

The political boundaries that will dictate representation for the next 10 years will be officially transmitted to the secretary of state by the Dec. 27 deadline, paving the way for candidates to make final decisions about their futures by the March 11 filing deadline. The commission voted unanimously to approve its maps late Monday night.

The vote came after months of intense activity by the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. The group decided to set out to draw the map from scratch rather than base its drafts on existing boundaries, causing a lengthy process that required many different proposals and changes based on public input that continued up to the last hours before maps were approved.

The decennial process is dictated by the results of the U.S. Census, which were delayed by the pandemic and litigation, shortening the window in which the commission could draw maps. Ultimately, California’s population grew at a slower rate than the nation, costing the state one of its 53 seats in Congress and forcing changes to the map.

The lost seat will essentially come from the Los Angeles area, where population growth in the state was slowest, specifically near Long Beach. The impact of losing the seat, however, will be mitigated by the retirement the lawmakers who represent the area, Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach and Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles.

In the Bay Area, there will be some changes, though none that fundamentally jeopardize incumbents. Most of the changes reflect population shifts, including increasing diversity. The commission found it had legal obligations to draw districts with strong Latino populations in the Central Valley and South Bay, as well as Asian American communities in Silicon Valley. Ultimately 12 lawmakers will represent significant portions of the Bay Area, up from 10 in the current map.

The area of Richmond and Vallejo will be a new seat in the area, which will be the likely landing place for Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, whose current Walnut Grove north state district has been largely broken up among neighboring districts. Garamendi announced his candidacy in the district shortly after the commission approved the maps.

In the South Bay, Fremont Rep. Ro Khanna’s district with a high population of Asian American voters remains largely intact, but neighboring Silicon Valley districts will see some changes. Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s San Jose district expanded significantly south to include agricultural and Latino communities south of Gilroy in San Benito and parts of Salinas. Central Coast Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, will also join the Bay Area delegation, as his district anchored by Monterey will expand to include some of South San Jose.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle

California Redistricting Commissioner Misses Key Meetings

On the day California’s independent redistricting commission approved and released to the public long-awaited draft political maps, one of the panel’s 14 members was missing for the bulk of the key meeting.

Commissioners spent seven hours on Nov. 10 reworking draft legislative, congressional and board of equalization lines that, once finalized, will be used for the next decade. Antonio Le Mons, a No Party Preference commissioner from Studio City who now has a Rancho Mirage address, logged on late and didn’t participate in the process, video recordings and transcripts show. But before voting to approve the draft lines, he congratulated his fellow commissioners for the accomplishment.

“I’m very proud to have been a part of this process with my fellow commissioners,” he said. “This has been quite a journey in the heart of a pandemic, and I think we should all feel very good.”

This wasn’t the first time Le Mons logged on late or missed a meeting before important deadlines. The commission has marked Le Mons absent for roll call in 16 of 44 hearings since October, as members met for marathon line-drawing sessions. Commissioners have until Dec. 27 to send certified maps to Secretary of State Shirley Weber before they’re used in 2022 statewide elections.

Sometimes, as happened on Nov. 10, Le Mons was marked absent during roll call before arriving late. The commission, according to spokesperson Fredy Ceja, records attendance only to establish a quorum at the start of a meeting.

The nonpartisan panel comprises five Republicans, five Democrats and four No Party Preference voters selected during a lengthy process that began in 2019. Commissioners are charged with drawing lines using census data that “provide fair representation for all Californians” under ballot measures voters approved in 2008 and 2010 to strip the Legislature of redistricting power.

Le Mons’ commissioner profile outlines 25 years of nonprofit and private sector leadership. He’s listed as the chief operating officer of the Skid Row Housing Trust, a Los Angeles-based organization that helps homeless, disabled and poor people, along with those struggling with drug addictions, to find permanent shelter. Le Mons is also, according to his commissioner biography, a former member of the California Assn. of Marriage and Family Therapists. He now runs a personal coaching and consulting firm.

He is also a co-star on streaming channel Fox Soul’s “The House,” a show that premiered Oct. 8 and focuses on Black LGBTQ issues. It’s unclear when filming began or if it coincided with commission responsibilities.

Most commissioners have missed a meeting, and some more than one, though it’s difficult to determine how many under the commission’s record-keeping system. Certain members also participate more than others, and many turn off their cameras during meetings. Republican commissioner Derric Taylor was marked absent for nearly as many meetings — 14 — as Le Mons over the last few months. Ceja said Taylor started a new assignment with additional responsibilities in his role at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Ceja said he did not know why Le Mons had missed meetings.

Click here to read the full article at LA Times

California Redistricting: Four Key Questions

California’s independent redistricting commission reaches a key milestone by releasing its preliminary congressional and legislative maps for public comment. But many changes are likely before final districts are adopted in late December for the 2022 election.

It took weeks of long, late-night meetings full of wonky debate and digital line drawing — as well as a haiku and at least two songs as public comment. 

But on Nov. 10, California’s independent redistricting commission reached a key milestone: Its first official maps are out. 

The citizen panel voted unanimously to release preliminary congressionalstate Senate and state Assembly districts for public comment. 

The commission’s work is far from done, however. It acknowledges that these preliminary maps are far from perfect, and that it will need the six weeks before its Dec. 27 court-ordered deadline to fix them before adopting final districts for the next decade, starting with the 2022 elections. On its schedule: At least four public input meetings starting Nov. 17, then 14 line-drawing sessions between Nov. 30 and Dec. 19.

“It’s messy. It’s very slow,” commissioner Linda Akutagawa said just before the Nov. 10 vote. “But I do believe that it is a process that has enabled as many people who seek to be engaged in this process to be engaged.”

The commission is working toward “final maps that will best reflect everybody,” added Akutagawa, a no party preference voter from Huntington Beach who is president and CEO of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics. 

Some key questions as the 14 commissioners start their next phase: 

How much could the maps change?

A lot, commissioners concede. 

While they’re required to follow a specific set of criteria, with equal population numbers being the highest priority, there are different ways to achieve those goals. 

The draft maps that were approved Wednesday night are generally along the lines of the final round of “visualizations” that the commission worked on this week. They include reworked congressional districts in Northern California, the Central Valley and San Diego in response to public feedback. 

For example, the progressive city of Davis was moved from a U.S. House district with politically conservative, rural areas in Northern California in earlier maps into a more urban, liberal district that includes parts of Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties

To meet its self-imposed deadline so it could avoid meetings around Thanksgiving, the commission also put a pin in several areas that need further work, including congressional and legislative districts in Los Angeles. 

Who are some early winners and losers?

The commission responded to concerns about earlier maps that combined two congressional districts represented by longtime African American representatives into one, and kept them separate in the latest maps. Commissioners were also able to keep the Hmong community united in congressional maps, and kept Native American tribes mostly united in Congressional and state Assembly maps. 

The commission also addressed concerns from community members in Orange County’s Little Saigon by ensuring they were in the same state Senate district. San Joaquin County community leaders who wanted less divided districts are also likely happy with the draft maps.

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Meanwhile, voters in and near Tracy who were disappointed with being grouped into a congressional district with the Bay Area were relieved to see their city placed back with the Central Valley. 

But other areas and advocacy groups are on the losing end so far.

Inyo and Mono counties, where officials asked to be kept together, were split in congressional and Senate districts, as was the city of Santa Clarita in Senate maps. 

Advocates say that proposed state Assembly districts divide Asian Americans and Pacific Islander communities in San Francisco.

“Losers” also include voters in Sacramento County, which hasn’t been as vocal in the process and is in danger of being sliced into several congressional districts, according to Jeff Burdick, a political blogger and 2020 congressional candidate.

And the uncertainty surrounding the districts is making it difficult for candidates and campaigns to get going for the June primary, some political professionals told Politico.

Click here click to read the full article on CalMatters.org

Orange County Supervisors Narrow Down New District Maps

Orange County supervisors Tuesday narrowed down their choices for new district maps from eight to three.

One map is favored by Republicans, another by Democrats and the third is considered more neutral, some political observers say.

The five supervisorial districts are up to be redrawn based on the census, which is conducted every 10 years.

Nicole Walsh of the County Counsel’s Office told the supervisors all the districts need to have roughly equal population and must be “geographically contiguous.”

“We believe that while all of the proposed maps are likely defensible… maps 2, 4 and 5 are the most defensible overall,” Walsh said.

All the maps the board settled on create a Latino majority district and all contain at least one district with nearly more than 30% Asian residents, or what’s known as an “influence district,” Walsh said.

In three of the proposed maps the Latino community would be divided in a way that could lead to a Voting Rights Act challenge, Walsh said.

“Maps 2 and 5 certainly keep communities of interest together,” Walsh said.

For instance in maps 2 and 5 Little Arabia in Anaheim is kept together, Walsh said.

Click here to read the full article at mynewsla.com

How Local Independent Commissions Are Changing California Redistricting

Long Beach is home to one of the busiest ports in the U.S., a city-owned airport, the birthplace of rapper Snoop Dogg and, of course, the beach. 

It’s also home to many different communities: a Cal State campus, young professionals and senior citizens downtown in need of affordable housing, a 45% Hispanic population and the largest Cambodian community outside of the Southeast Asian nation. 

How these communities are grouped into new election districts could reorder the city’s priorities. For decades, the Long Beach City Council drew its own districts. But this year, redistricting is in the hands of a new independent commission, aimed at preventing council members from drawing maps to their own political advantage. 

The new commission is hearing from residents, including environmental justice advocate Theral Golden, who spoke about Long Beach’s “kill zone” — also known as the “diesel death zone,” or “asthma alley.” 

Golden and others argued that because the corridor north of the port is currently divided into four council districts, residents can’t be as effective in fighting port-caused pollution.

“We are looking for something that will give someone who will represent us in a manner in which we can solve some problems,” Golden told the commission in June.  

California has a dozen new local independent commissions in this round of redistricting, a process that will create districts for elections from 2022 to 2030 based on the 2020 Census, the once-a-decade nationwide population count. 

These new panels are coming up with districts that in some places have never been redrawn, or have not been altered significantly, despite changing populations. Taking redistricting power away from office holders could mean changes in representation and city priorities.

This local movement was preceded by a state-level independent commission created by voters in 2008. That commission is busy holding public hearings and working on new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts that, in some areas, could impact who is elected. It is getting the lion’s share of attention. 

But the city and county commissions demonstrate, again, that all politics is local.   

Reforming redistricting’s ‘wild, wild West’ 

The new local independent redistricting commissions were authorized by the 2019 Fair MAPS Act, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as a way to prevent political gerrymandering. 

The push in Long Beach for an independent panel came mostly from the city’s Cambodian community, whose political power was diluted when it was split into four council districts by the city council’s last redrawing in 2011.  

Despite that division, in December 2020, Suely Saro, a community advocate born in a refugee camp in Thailand, became the first Cambodian American on the Long Beach City Council and one of a few in the nation.

In 2018, a community group, Equity for Cambodians, teamed up with California Common Cause, a government reform group that pushed for the Fair MAPS Act, to lobby for the new commission. Later that year, voters changed the city charter to create the panel.

Click here to read the full story at CalMatters.com

Exporting California’s Redistricting Change


VotedIt is an old adage that California is a bellwether for the nation. Policy changes that happen here often flow eastward from tax revolts to climate strategies. Newly elected governor Gavin Newsom boldly predicted that recent California policies are the future for the rest of the country. Time will tell, but the idea that California political ideas will move the rest of the country is being tested currently, led by another of the Golden State’s governors.

Last week, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted a Terminate Gerrymandering Summit at his USC Schwarzenegger Institute. On hand were leaders of four states, Michigan, Utah, Colorado, and Missouri, that saw successful ballot propositions approved in recent elections to take the power of drawing districts from legislators and give it to independent committees.

Calling the art of Gerrymandering (the word comes from an 1812 Massachusetts state senate district drawing signed by Governor Gerry with one district shaped like a salamander) a “200-year old scam,” Schwarzenegger celebrated the electoral victories, which he said, now means that one-third of congressional districts nationally are no longer drawn by politicians.

The exuberant former governor went a bit overboard in declaring that redistricting is now “hip.” However, it’s not a stretch to understand that when people listen to arguments about politicians choosing their own voters under Gerrymandering that the fairness issue weighs heavily on the side of change.

Both political parties have practiced the art of Gerrymandering—drawing districts that would guarantee safe party seats.

There are efforts in Texas and North Carolina to undo Republican Gerrymanders and in Maryland to end a Democratic Gerrymander.

The success of the Utah proposition in a solid Republican state was built on campaign material quoting Republicans Ronald Reagan and Schwarzenegger on the undemocratic aspects of Gerrymandering.

Schwarzenegger was a principal supporter of California’s Proposition 11 in 2008 to draw electoral boundaries for state assembly and senate districts. That was followed two years later by Proposition 20, filed by Charles Munger, Jr., to add the task of redistricting congressional seats to the newly created commission’s responsibilities.

Schwarzenegger reminisced about leaders of Democratic and Republican caucuses fighting fiercely when he was governor over some policy issue only to call him later and say they were united in their opposition to his effort to support the initiative to end Gerrymandering. He said then (and now) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spearheaded an effort that supplied millions of dollars to defeat the measure.

Kathay Feng of Common Cause, one of the lead organizations attempting to end Gerrymandering around the nation, recalled once receiving a call from a San Francisco legislator (unidentified but a Democrat, of course—San Francisco) demanding that no more Asian voters be put in her district.

Schwarzenegger intends to continue the effort to push his California message nationally during the 2020 elections. He set a goal that two-thirds or more of the congressional districts drawn after the 2020 census will be in the hands of independent commissioners.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

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. …

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