Redistricting Maps Official. Soon, Officially Challenged.

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KQED/John Myers

You'd be hard pressed to describe the mood of most members of California's first-ever independent redistricting effort as anything other than relieved -- relieved that a very long and complex process has come to its official end with certification of 177 newly created political districts.

But their relief didn't come without a very public airing of some internal commission disagreements, ones which we may hear more about as critics of the maps mount formal challenges in the coming weeks.

The final deliberative meeting of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission wasn't deliberative at all this morning; a brief discussion and, after no one in the public offered comment on any specific proposal, a vote to certify the new maps for legislative, congressional, and state Board of Equalization districts.

The votes were exactly the same as they were on July 29: 13-1 on the legislative and Board of Equalization maps, 12-2 on the congressional map. Commissioner Michael Ward (R) was the full-time dissenter; on the congressional maps, he was joined by Commissioner Jodie Filkins-Webber (R).

The commission also issued a lengthy report, including a narrative of the decisions made on each district... along with identifying information for which districts were drafted to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

But even some panel members voting yes said they did so with concerns. In particular, the new state Senate districts seemed the least loved, with commissioners Maria Blanco (D) and Connie Galambos Malloy (DTS) voicing worries before casting a vote in support.

"My concerns are serious ones," said Blanco in discussing two districts in particular: a Senate district in the San Fernando Valley that's at the center of criticism over whether it's drawn enough to favor Latino voters, and the Contra Costa senatorial district that I highlighted in today's radio story. Blanco said, though, that neither concern was enough to make her reject the map of all 40 senatorial districts.

"I think that (my) concerns may shake out, either through the courts or through the referendum," she said. When asked at a later news conference whether she was encouraging either kind of challenge to the commission's maps, Blanco said she was not.

But the big criticisms of the commission today came from the one member who's been unhappy with the process for weeks, Commissioner Ward. In a scathing set of remarks at the post-meeting news conference, the Fullerton chiropractor accused his fellow commissioners of breaking the law... in open meetings and behind closed doors.

KQED/John Myers

Calling it a "tainted and political process," Ward said some of his fellow commissioners had drawn districts outside of public meetings. "This commission broke the law," he said.

In a later interview, Ward declined to offer specific times or specific districts drawn through what he called "dinner table deals." That seems to be the most damning allegation, given the legal prohibition of commissioners meeting in small groups and outside of public venues.

Ward also lashed out at the panel's decision to cancel the release of a second formal set of draft maps. "This failure," he said, "affected the public comment. It tilted the public comments in favor of some groups."

The body language of the other 13 commissioners during Ward's critique seemed tense. One commissioner shook her head; others stared blankly ahead. They left it to the commissioner acting as chair, Republican Vincent Barabba, to refute the allegations. "Commissioner Ward attended different meetings than I did," he said. "If he was aware of us breaking the law, my guess is he should've brought it up before this day."

That internal criticism is already being used as a seed for a campaign to overturn the maps via referendum. Republican activist Julie Vandermost of Laguna Niguel says she intends to file a referendum on the Senate maps as soon as Tuesday. And her effort will be aided, either organizationally or financially, by the California Republican Party. Chairman Tom Del Beccaro says there may be a referendum filed on the congressional maps, too.

Democrats, meantime, point out that there's no evidence the GOP has the financial backing to gather more than 500,000 signatures in just 79 days. So far, neither Vandermost nor Del Beccaro have identified any of the financiers of their effort.

As for legal challenges, it appears that's TBD. Latino rights groups say they're still analyzing the reams of Census data related to the new political districts.

Regardless, the citizen commissioners seemed elated to be relieved of their primary duty. They thunderously applauded when handing over the final documents to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who thanked them for their work. Most have put their professional and personal lives on hold to serve on the commission; whether the fruits of their labor actually ripen into official political districts, though, remains to be seen.

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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.
  • http://CapitolNotesbyjohnMyers Allan Krauter

    As usual, leave it to NPR and especially John Myers to deliver a more complete picture in fewer words than the print people. No other story I read captured any of the Latino discomfort over some of the districts; instead, they all zeroed in on Republican blustering about being robbed. While that is a big part of the story, it is by no means the entire story. Thanks, Mr. Myers, for another balanced and insightful piece of reporting.

  • Jennifer Burgess

    No district should be drawn to “favor” any particular party, race, religion or creed. Talk about disenfranchising voters, everyone in those “favored” districts who doesn’t meet the strict qualifications is immediately disenfranchised.