Redistricting complaints continue, except hereWith the final vote of the 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission last week, Pleasanton will be part of the newly created 15th Congressional District next year with veteran Congressman Pete Stark (D-Fremont) already campaigning for reelection. For years, Stark has represented the 13th District, which included a sliver of Pleasanton's northwest side. Now he will have the entire city, replacing two-term Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton), who also will seek reelection, this time in the newly drawn 9th Congressional District that takes him out of Pleasanton and puts the district solidly in San Joaquin and east Contra Costa counties.
Although there's been no complaining locally, the commission's decision to put Pleasanton in a new district may be our loss. A hometown congressman who has been publicly proud of his ties to Pleasanton, McNerney came home most weekends and has been highly visible both on the political and social circuits here. Stark, who lives in Fremont, seldom visits Pleasanton, although why should he? He has up to now had few constituents here with his base to the south and west. With a majority of Pleasanton voters now declaring themselves Democrats, Stark's interest here may change.
Statewide, in fact, the new district boundaries appear to favor Democrat candidates -- possibly enough, according to some monitoring the boundaries, to give the Democrats a crucial two-thirds majority in the state Senate, if not quite that percentage in the Assembly. Since 2001, California's registered Democrats have increased by about 500,000, while Republicans have decreased by around 100,000.
The state Republican Party is vowing to challenge the new district lines. A conservative group called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting is expected to try and put a referendum to overturn the Citizens Redistricting Commission's approval of the state Senate lines. Michael Ward, a Republican on the Redistricting Commission, was the lone vote against the Assembly redistricting. In an interview with CalWatchDog.com, he said he believes the commission broke the law, failed to uphold an open and transparent decision-making process, and used political motives in drawing California's new state and federal legislative districts. He said the commission "simply traded the partisan, backroom gerrymandering by the Legislature for partisan, backroom gerrymandering by average citizens." It became "the Citizens Smoke-Filled Room, where average citizen commissioners engaged in dinner-table deals and partisan gerrymandering -- the very problems that this commission was supposed to prevent."
Despite an apparent dismissal of Ward's claim by commission chairman and fellow Republican Vincent Brabba, Ward's charges look to be the groundwork for what could become a legal or ballot-box challenge of the commission's work. As Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, a Democrat, former legislative staffer and now a consultant focusing on legislative races and independent expenditures, points out, when the voters passed Propositions 11 and 20, the message was heard loud and clear: Voters wanted fair districts that would bring an end to the squiggly lines, split cities and nonsensical configurations that were signs of gerrymanders. Voters wanted competitive elections that would force candidates to fight for the middle, making elections matter again. And voters wanted to fix the dysfunction in Sacramento. Of these three simple outcome goals, seemingly none has been achieved.
The early post-mortem in much of the state, except here in the Tri-Valley, shows complaints about splits of counties and cities and the pairing of disconnected cities. There will be more competitive elections this coming year, but questions linger as to the plan's long-term competitiveness. If you're looking for an opportunity to see the next redistricting brawl first hand, mark Sept. 30 on your calendar. That's when UC Berkeley will be holding its conference, "A Brave New World: CA's Redistricting Experiment," with presenters ranging from KQED host John Myers, to Paul Mitchell, a few commissioners and Kathy Feng from Common Cause to break up the fights. Get there early to claim your ringside seats.