Redistricting's Final, Controversial, Push

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KQED/John Myers

As California's bold experiment with independent redistricting enters the homestretch, it's clear that drawing political boundaries is neither simple nor without controversy.

And for the 14 men and women picked to do the work, the questions will soon be: can it be done unanimously? And can the work product pass legal muster?

This was supposed to be the day where the public -- and the nervous political world -- got a second full set of congressional, legislative, and Board of Equalization districts. Instead, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is still haggling over every line, in every map, choosing to give the public daily iterations of political districts as the time left to do their work quickly runs out.

My story on this morning's edition of The California Report takes a quick glance at the challenge that's still in front of the commission -- and complaints ranging from the provincial to the political to the legal.

The lack of a second full set of maps is either (a) a chance for additional analysis or (b) an apocalyptic sign of redistricting chaos; at least those are the two choices under the prevailing conventional wisdom. But it could also be a realization that drawing political maps is a lot harder than many people thought it would be, and that the citizen commissioners are imperfect but earnest in their quest to do it right.

First, some important links if you want to see where the political mapping process stands as of now. The commission has set up, with the help of UC Berkeley's Statewide Redistricting Database, a pretty simple Google map that allows you to either see the current drafts from a drop-down menu or type in an address and see a specific legislative or congressional district.

For those who use Google Earth (free and fun), the statewide database also has the maps in the .kmz file type that you can then use to fly in and check out districts.

Both tools allow you to zoom all the way down to the street level, thus seeing exactly where the lines are now placed. And the commission has promised to update the site throughout the next two weeks so that the latest "visualizations" of districts will be available to the public. This, by itself, is a marked improvement from the first formal draft maps, which were pretty hard for anyone other than the pros to really analyze.

But the timing from here on out is key. Commissioners reiterated at Wednesday's hearing in Sacramento that they believe they only have two more weeks to settle on where all the lines will fall -- slightly more than two weeks if they use the entire month of July. The commission is operating under the belief that the final maps should be available for public inspection for two weeks before being certified on August 15. However, a review of both Proposition 11 and Proposition 20 -- the templates for the process -- reveals no requirement for that lengthy of a review, other than the public have notice of any meeting at least 14 days in advance.

(Also worth noting: Prop 20, the 2010 measure that added congressional redistricting, removed a month off of the process created by Prop 11 in 2008, with the reasoning being that it allowed for possible intervention by the courts to redraw the districts.)

As my radio story reports, Wednesday's hearing highlighted the challenges still to overcome for the commission's maps to be accepted by all Californians. Strike that... such unanimous support will probably never be won. But the maps do have to be legally sound; and as the commission delves more closely into legislative and congressional districts in southern California, from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire, it's going to no doubt spend a lot of time talking about the voting rights of minorities.

African Americans have, in particular, been unhappy with the commission's work to date when it comes to LA congressional districts -- districts which they say are poised to drastically dilute the community's political power. That was the message brought to Sacramento Wednesday by former Congresswoman Diane Watson, who told the commission they were on the verge of "effectively and completely" gutting her old district and others.

There are also demands about the needs of other minority rights and about the protection/evisceration of the much talked about "communities of interest." Of course, residents of some regions are perfectly happy with what they've seen so far... which is part of the paradox of independent/fair redistricting. Every action -- moving a line north or south, east or west -- causes a ripple reaction somewhere else. Political registration numbers aren't a factor used by the commission, but population equality and minority rights are... which means some communities won't get what they want.

Making decisions about the winners and losers... timely decisions... is the real challenge now. Ultimately, that will mean some disagreements among a group that's been surprisingly chummy up to this point. Several commissioners said that their vote in support of the June 10 maps was a courtesy vote designed to keep the discussion going. But at some point, their differences -- regional, political, personal -- may become more clear.

"They have not been willing to really confront each other," said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic political consultant whose firm posts draft proposals with actual political data (GOP consultant Matt Rexroad does the same, with detailed data on each map about the district's political leanings in years past).

The next few days will be interesting ones, as the commission wrestles with how much more work it must do versus how much more it would like to do. It's a big state... and the lines have to go somewhere.

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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.
  • Politically Incorrect

    As one of the citizens who was eliminated from participating in the “citizens redistricting committee” I can tell you that this is a “hand picked committee.” When former government employees, elected officials and others are selected you know that it is a rigged deal. The redistricting committee is nothing more that a selection of gaggle of the establishment and it will not work.