Line Drawing, Anyone?

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BURBANK -- It's pretty accepted as fact that the once-a-decade process of drawing political maps, known as redistricting, is arcane. Dry. Dull? Well, maybe not.

That last assessment comes after judging the decent sized crowd that out in Burbank today to learn how California's new redistricting process will work, and how they may want to apply to be one of the 14 citizens who will be chosen by the end of 2010 to slice and dice the state into 120 legislative districts and four Board of Equalization districts.

John Myers, KQEDThe event, sponsored by a new group known as Redistricting CA, comes on the same day that State Auditor Elaine Howle released the application for potential citizen map-drawers. The organizations that sponsored the event are aiming to reach as broad a swath of California communities as possible, in order to ensure as much diversity as possible on the citizens commission.

And so on this sunny Tuesday in southern California, redistricting experts, state officials, and local officials who have drawn political maps in their own communities came together to explain what redistricting is... and how the process will work under the law enacted by 2008's Proposition 11.

"Now, the hard work begins," said Prop 11 proponent and Common Cause California executive director Kathay Feng to the audience. The morning panel focused on redistricting FAQs and the afternoon was broken into workshops designed to help representatives of various southern California communities get the word out to potential applicants.

The two biggest challenges in the short run may be mechanics and messaging. The latter may even be the most important -- finding a way to take the heavy blitz of messaging, and promises, from the Prop 11 political campaign and translate that into the more tempered outcomes of independently creating Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization districts.

"This isn’t going to turn the state around all on its own," attorney Steve Reyes told the audience.

As for the mechanics, the staff of Auditor Howle has spent months drafting the application for citizens redistricters, and will also help a panel of auditors conduct the formal interview process of applicants; applications may be submitted anytime before February 12, 2010.

Perhaps most challenging is how many politically active Californians aren't eligible to serve under Prop 11's strict conflict of interest rules.

"Many qualified Californians are conflicted out,"said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "They're a school board member, they are a city clerk of a city. If you serve in a local office, you're conflicted out."

Vargas' organization opposed the 2008 initiative, but is now trying to find ways to mitigate what he perceives as its shortcomings. The rules also make some donors to political campaigns ineligible. "Who are you left with?," he asked in an interview during today's event.

"The basic goal is to get outsiders," said Doug Johnson of Claremont McKenna College's Rose Institute in one of the afternoon workshops. Johnson told the community activists in attendance that "99.9%" of them are likely untouched by the disqualifications. And those with strong political opinions aren't necessarily ineligible, leading some political warriors to already start asking like-minded Californians to apply.

Today's Redistricting Conference in Burbank (Photo: John Myers, KQED)Others at today's conference focused on the makeup of the commission -- five Democrats, five Republicans, and four citizens of neither major political party -- and asked why the party with a strong plurality... Democrats... get no greater representation than the GOP. Some in the audience also worried about the transparency of the application process, and whether interest groups might try to contact and pressure potential redistricting commissioners before the work even begins in 2011.

Supporters, though, say just because none of this will be easy isn't a reason to not become involved. And that's where the PR campaign comes in. "Outreach is absolutely important," said Common Cause's Feng. "What's even more important is to make sure that those people that do apply represent the diversity and the talent of the state."

You can actually track statistics on who's applying to be on the redistricting panel online. Look for this to become a closely watched process nationwide in 2010. While other states have independent redistricting commissions, none quite have a system like the one voters created through Prop 11.

As for it being boring... the outgoing chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Steve Lynch, put it this way to a lunch crowd: "It's going to be so stimulating that you can't say no."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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