Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - July 8, 2011

Redistricting: Right or wrong?

We're not saying the purportedly nonpartisan Citizen's Redistricting Commission pulled a fast one, but its release of dozens of new "visualizations" (maps) last Friday just before the three-day Independence Day weekend is suspicious. Many voters and politicians, including a few good reporters, were already off celebrating. Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, a Democrat, former legislative staffer and now a consultant focusing on legislative races and independent expenditures, points out that the way to bury a story is to give it to the media before a holiday weekend. Either by design or mistake, that's exactly what the commission did, releasing scores of redrawn district maps as its busy week ended. Mitchell said this avoided the spotlight from anyone with a family or a social life.

The state commission has now reconvened, holding daily hearings until next Thursday when it is scheduled to release yet another set of redistricting maps. This should be fun to watch as the Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan members field the heavy criticism already being vented while still maintaining the necessary super-majority of 9 of 14 votes to achieve final approval.

The 14-member commission is responsible for redrawing the boundaries of California's congressional, Board of Equalization, state senate and assembly districts based on 2010 Census data and public input, and also in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects against "minority vote dilution." A Latino rights group already has called the June 10 first redistricting drafts a "worst case scenario for Latinos," noting that Latinos stand to lose a congressional seat despite accounting for 90% of the state's growth over the last 10 years. The African American Redistricting Collaborative is urging the commission to recognize its population strengths and draw redistricting maps accordingly. The Asian Pacific American Legal Center is working closely to present a united case to the commission.

Here in the Tri-Valley, it's still unclear where the boundaries are in the 10th, 11th and 13th congressional districts, represented by Congressmen John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney and Pete Stark, respectively. Last Thursday, State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan seemed surprised to learn that her district boundaries that had been expanded to include Dublin and Pleasanton had already been redrawn back into Contra Costa County. As for Pleasanton's once three-Assembly districts, it appears to be not in any, at least for the time being.

Unfortunately for the reading public, all this confusion comes on the heels of a glowing analysis of California's new way of drawing political maps in the June 18 issue of The Economist, a British magazine that is not usually kind to the political structure and activities of our state. It calls the chaos among California's incumbent politicians a "good sign," with the new lines of the state's 177 congressional districts being finalized by a "genuinely independent commission of citizens, not by state legislators." As charges of favoritism along political, ethnic and special interest lines intensify in the coming week, we'll see if The Economist is right in recommending our new system to other states.

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