California Legislative Redistricting Commission Could Change Everything

In the November 2010 election not a single incumbent Congress member or state legislator was voted out of office in California.  That this happened is not unusual but it spoke volumes to voters in an election cycle when across the nation voters turned out incumbents in droves.

The voters spoke again! For the first time, the reapportionment process of redrawing California’s Congressional and State Legislative district boundaries will be done by an independent citizens’ commission instead of by the politicians who most benefit from doing so.  The political class tried desperately to avoid this even sponsoring their own initiative measures to “undo” the entire restricting process and give control back to the Legislature.

“No way” was the voter response—-a pox on all your houses!

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is a product of two initiative petitions put on the state ballot and approved by voters.  The first covered state legislative districts and the second expanded the powers of the commission to include Congressional districts even before the commission was selected and seated.

Last week the commission was fully constituted and is ready to begin its work and all it needs is the census data essential to the task.  That official census data will not be available until April 2011 at the earliest, but the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, a nonpartisan research department of Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, has analyzed population estimates and released a study of its results.

One of the conclusions of the study of population shifts is that California is still growing but no longer faster than the rest of the nation.  The result is that it is unlikely to pick up any additional seats in the US House of Representatives.  That means the work of the citizens redistricting panel is a zero sum game based largely on how people are moving around the Golden State.  The politicians are not going to like the answer.

It appears that the Congressional District with the largest loss of population over the last decade is none other than the seat now held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Part of the reason is that the great Central Valley is growing at a faster pace than the major metro areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The way these migration patterns play out sets up a big deal decision by the redistricting commission.

Should the San Francisco Bay area give up one of its Congressional seats to make room for a growing Central Valley population?  The alternative is to redraw the lines of the existing Bay Area districts to include more inland population to equalize the Districts.  But the community of interests argues against that for many reasons.

My own Congressional District, California 11th is the only competitive District in the State where the balance of Democrats and Republicans is more or less equally divided with the blue bay area portions of the district balanced against the red leaning San Joaquin County parts of the District.

The voters seem to want more of the Congressional and state legislative districts to be competitive like mine and voted for the independent citizens redistricting commission to make it so. The Rose Institute Study found that California’s Democratic congressional districts are under populated by an average of 30,000 people, while the average Republican district is overpopulated by 54,000 persons and 65% of the California’s population growth is in Congressional districts now held by Republicans.

I am reminded of the old State House expression:

“Give the people what they want—and give it to them hard!”

Can you imagine all the political negative ads we’ll have to watch if all these Congressional and state legislative seats are truly competitive?  Jeez!