California's much anticipated transition to new and independently drawn political boundaries has cleared a big hurdle, with the citizens commission created by voters in 2008 releasing draft legislative and congressional maps.
And now, some irony. Perhaps the single biggest desire of the voters was to change the political culture of the state... and yet, political ramifications were the one thing the 14 citizen commissioners expressly did not consider.
That's largely due to Proposition 11's mandate that the citizen map drawers take a blind eye to incumbent politicians. And boy, do the maps ever show it.
Several incumbents look like they've got one of three not-so-hot choices: retire, run against another incumbent, or pack their bags and move to an open seat.
Eleven congressional districts, based on the number crunching of smart politicos, would host the game 'Too Many Incumbents' with the matchups of members of Congress Pete Stark/Jerry McNerney; Jeff Denham/Dennis Cardoza/Jim Costa; Elton Gallegly/Buck McKeon; Howard Berman/Brad Sherman; Linda Sanchez/Laura Richardson; Joe Baca/Jerry Lewis; Gary Miller/Judy Chu; Darrell Issa/Brian Bilbray; Dana Rohrbacher/John Campbell;Xavier Becerra/Lucille Roybal Allard; and Bob Filner/Susan Davis.
Not all of those, however, mean ugly faceoffs. Not only could some incumbents move to a house nearby and be fine, but some may simply not run again (as with Bob Filner, who's running for mayor of San Diego).
Add those to as many 13 vacant seats, and the congressional maps -- should they stand (more on that in a moment) -- would feature some of the most interesting and intense political competition in memory. Several sitting local and state politicians are jumping into the congressional races... before the ink's even dry on the maps.
In the Assembly, the 'Too Many Incumbents' game also poses some interesting dilemmas. In Sacramento, the commission appears to have placed Democratic incumbents Roger Dickinson, Richard Pan, and Mariko Yamada all in a single district. And in Los Angeles, a single Assembly district would be shared in 2012 by four Dem incumbents, though only two of them have remaining eligible terms: Holly Mitchell and the Assembly speaker, John Perez.
There will be a lot of data crunching in the coming hours and days by the political world in California. But perhaps the most interesting part: it ain't over.On the plus side, the commission process thus far has created something unheard of in redistricting: transparency and goodwill. In fact, each draft set of maps -- Assembly, Senate, Congress, and state Board of Equalization -- was approved unanimously by the 14 members of the commission.
But the draft maps are just that -- a first bite at the apple. The commission will now retrace its steps up and down the state for more public hearings, with final maps to be certified on August 15. And it's already clear that some commissioners are seeking some serious reworkings.
Some angst was obvious Friday morning as commissioners took what seemed to be their first hard look at the 40 state Senate districts. The commission's deliberations in recent weeks over "visualizations" of districts usually focused on either the Assembly or Congress. No doubt many of the commissioners had hoped to "nest" as many Assembly districts into Senate districts as possible (a desire, but not a mandate, written in Prop 11). But as was pointed out during the commission meeting, "nesting" can come at the expense of other worthwhile goals -- namely recognizing so-called "communities of interest."
"It may not make sense," said Commissioner Maria Blanco of having so many Senate districts nested with Assembly districts. Blanco says the many other criteria in Prop 11 -- especially communities of interest -- need to be given the weight they deserve.
And finally, one other thing to keep an eye on: numbers... as in district numbers. None of the maps released Friday -- for the Legislature or Congress -- had district numbers on them. That will matter most in the state Senate thanks to a largely obscure but important issue of "deferrals," which will mean some areas of the state... and some politicians... will go without an election until 2014.
You can the commission's full explanation of its draft maps here.