Did California just take a big step toward political sanity?
California's gerrymandered political districts have been a primary cause of the state's partisan gridlock, experts say. New, nonpartisan redistricting maps released Friday could help.
California's attempts to overcome a decade of political dysfunction took another step Friday, when the final version of newly redrawn legislative and congressional districts were released to the public.Skip to next paragraph
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Political experts have long blamed a significant part of the political gridlock in California on the partisan way that legislative districts were drawn. With most districts either strongly Democratic or strongly Republican, legislators were encouraged to play their party's extremes to be reelected.
The Citizen Redistricting Commission that spent seven months drawing the new maps has gone some way toward solving that problem, political experts say. Though the maps may slightly help Democrats – perhaps even giving them enough seats to claim supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature – the new districts are more competitive than the current ones.
The greater complaint is likely to come from ethnic groups, particularly Hispanics, which suggest the new districts diminish their political clout by diluting their numbers. There will actually be fewer Latino-heavy districts under the new plan than there are now – despite the fact that Latinos have accounted for 90 percent of the state's population growth during the past decade, says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
"The draft maps will make it harder for Latino voices to be heard in California politics in proportion to their numbers,” he says, adding that his organization could consider litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices.
The 14-member commission – five Democrats, five Republicans, and four decline-to-states – was created by a 2008 ballot initiative, Proposition 11, which deprived state legislators of authority to draw their own political districts. In 2011, Proposition 20 expanded the commission's authority to include redrawing congressional districts, too.
The process now moves to two weeks of public comment before a final vote, which will pave the way for the maps' use in next year’s statewide elections. By federal law, congressional apportionment needs to be recalculated every 10 years according to new US Census figures.
The reviews are mostly positive.
“They conducted themselves with honor and integrity and people are uniformly impressed,” says Zabrae Valentine, deputy director of California Forward, a nonpartisan public interest reform group. She and others say that although the outcome is not perfect, it is a huge improvement.