Citizen’s Redistricting A Lot Better Than Backroom Deal Making

Over the last couple of months, much has been made of the historic Citizen’s Redistricting Commission process in California. This process, established by a majority of California voters when they passed both Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, took the power to draw their own districts out of the hands of the politicians and put it into the hands of a commission of citizens.

Was this process perfect? Anyone paying attention over the past couple of months would tell you “no, it was not” – and truthfully it is unrealistic to expect any process as politicized as redistricting to be. But that is not the question we, especially Republicans, should be asking ourselves. The real question is did this process yield better results than one managed fully and completely by the majority Democrats in the Legislature and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown? I think the answer to that is, “yes.” We have been there, done that 10 years ago when the Legislature and then-Governor Gray Davis drew the lines in a highly politicized and retributive process. Republicans clearly didn’t gain under that scenario; in fact we have lost seats over the last 10 years.

Now, I understand the definition of “better results” clearly is a function of what the very subjective term “better” means to you and furthering your policy and political goals. Certainly the State Senate maps prove problematic from the perspective of Senate Republicans and fortunately, Proposition 11 preserved the right of the people of California to hold the commissioners accountable for their work on those maps through a referendum. That is a good and healthy stopgap that was included in redistricting reform and Republicans are well within their rights to challenge those maps.

But if we pause to think of the nightmare that would be before the Republican Party had the Democrats, who hold firm control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, drawn the lines, it becomes clear that things could be a whole lot worse.

Can you imagine simultaneously negotiating a budget and new district lines with the Democrats in full control?  Imagine the added political advantage the Democrats would have had in that situation.  If you think cutting office budgets, like Speaker Perez did to Assemblyman Portantino, is bad, imagine what could have happened if the same politicians were in charge of drawing “competitive” district lines for legislators who refused to vote for a bad budget or tax increase?  I cannot imagine a scenario where that would have netted a better outcome for the GOP.

Ten years ago when the Legislature and Governor controlled this process, the Legislature worked hard to create an aura of a public process by holding a couple of hearings on the maps. After receiving public feedback, the maps weren’t changed.  Why?  Because the hearings were just pro forma; politicians had already come to an agreement without any input from the public. The maps were passed. The districts set. The incumbents safe.

The truth is that as I continue to examine these districts I am seeing that it’s not just that it could have been worse if the Democrats had controlled the redistricting process, but that the districts drawn by the commission actually give Republicans a shot at picking up some seats. For example, Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina carried 31 of the new Assembly seats but there are currently only 28 Republican Assembly members. Carly carried 17 of the new Senate districts while under the current lines there are only 15 Republican Senators. That tells me that with good candidate recruitment and the right messaging and resources, Republicans have the opportunity to gain at least three seats in Assembly and two seats in the Senate.

The new districts might not satisfy everyone.  It’s a compromise approach; there’s an expectation that not everyone would be happy.  But this process was better than the alternative – and could provide Republicans with a path to making some electoral gains, for the first time in 10 years.


(Julie Soderlund is a Republican Political Consultant and Partner at Sacramento-based Public Affairs Firm Wilson-Miller Communications, Inc. She served as a communications consultant to the campaign to support Proposition 11.)


  1. I like reading an upbeat assessment of what should be a win for folks who crave responsible and reponsive representation! But It seems almost a moot point, given that voters perceive either major partiy as a greater and lesser evil. A long as party committees choose to impose party ideology at the cost of the peoples best interests, the attitude of ‘throw them ALL OUT’, is likely to prevail.

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