Tag Archives: districts

What is a “Safe Seat”? And Can the Republicans Save Themselves?

In an era of nonpartisan districting, what is a safe seat?

by Brian Leubitz

Much will be written about what brought Steve Fox to the Assembly. The unlikely Assemblyman from the normally solid Republican foothills of LA County was shall we say, not expected to win. The area’s voting history made most observers inclined to believe that it would be a relatively easy Republican victory for Ron Smith, the Republican in the top-2. And that was shown in stark relief by Fox’s website and the seeming lack of interest in the race by the usual Sacramento suspects.

Tony Quinn, an editor of the California Target Book and a former redistricting lead for the Republican Assembly caucus in 1971 and 1981, has a great take on the  race, the 2012 election, and the role of the two parties in California going forward:

So what’s the problem? Well, over the summer local Democrats put on a big registration drive in this middle class district, as they did across the state and using the new online registration signed up a whole lot of new voters.  And guess who they were: loads of young Latinos, citizens and native Californians, who have learned to read and write, no thanks to the Republicans, and know who their friends are and who they are not.  Because they were new voters, many were not on the precinct rolls, so they cast provisional ballots.  And that is who manipulated the election, Mr. Smith.  The new voters who voted.

It isn’t a long article, and certainly worth a full read. Yet the point is there. If demographics really are destiny, where does that leave the Republican party. Perhaps this is the first in a number of calls for reform in the so-called GOP. Or perhaps it will go unheeded once again.

The Democratic Party did a good job on registration. Partially by using new tools, like the online voter registration, and partially by good ol’ fashioned shoe leather. But, the Republicans have been doing much of the work of marginalization of their party all by themselves.

With the news that Jim Brulte is considering a bid to run the CA Republican Party, perhaps they can work towards a more practical future. Brulte has a history as a right-wing Republican, but that being said, he also know how to work within the system to get things done. It would take a Herculean effort, as the Republicans can simply not survive relying on the traditional voter base alone.

But, even with a somewhat pragmatic leader like Brulte, Quinn points out that the Democrats really left several seats on the table this election.

Democrats actually failed to make the gains they could have in this election; there are about half a dozen newly-elected Republicans in districts like Smith’s who faced unknown and unfunded Democrats in 2012 but still had mediocre showings because of Latino turnout in their districts.  

Of course, the answer isn’t as simple as Latino turnout alone. However, with additional resources and targeting, 2014 and 2016 could mean the further marginalization of a party that once ran this state.

Was The Last Redistricting Too Clever By Half?

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

Following the 2000 census the California Assembly, Senate and Governorship were all controlled by Democrats.  In line with tradition they used their majority power to create new electoral districts designed to maximize the Democratic majority.  They did this by drawing district lines that bunched Democrats and Republicans together in some very oddly shaped districts.


Look at district 15, drawn here in brown.  It sends branches up toward Sacramento, an arm toward the East Bay, a stump to the south, etc.  This is what a safe district looks like.  Neighboring district 10 has an equally odd arrangement of offshoots to the east and south and a little hook over there on its left.

In 1990 this drawing of districts to create safe seats backfired.  With safe districts turnover of legislators became rare and lawmakers became less responsive to voters, which made voters angry enough to pass term limits to try to solve the problem.

But that didn’t stop the games.  The 2000 census created a new batch of safe districts, and I think this backfired again, only worse.  First, no one foresaw 2008’s electoral sweep.  This redistricting created safe Republican districts as well as Democratic districts because they increased the number of Democratic seats by bunching Republicans together into a few districts.  The 2008 sweep could have taken out several more Republicans than it did because of the concentration of Republicans in these districts.  In SD-19 Hannah-Beth Jackson lost her Senate race by less than 900 votes in that “safe” Republican district.  A fair redistricting would have turned Santa Barbara’s Senate district over to the Democrats because enough voters there were fed up with the increasingly extremist Republicans running for office.

But the very worst consequence of the 2001 redistricting was that it guaranteed just enough safe Republican seats to enable the remaining extremist minority to block budgets while avoiding the political consequences.  The way their districts are drawn they are going to get reelected no matter what, so they refuse to approve any budget that does not yield to all of the most absolutely extreme right-wing demands.

This November voters passed Proposition 11, which tries to set up a neutral process for drawing legislative districts.  I hope that this process works as intended, creating districts that fairly represent their constituents’ interests.  I also hope that this opens up the possibility of truly contested elections in which responsive politicians are asked to stay in office — and politicians who do not represent their constituents can be replaced.

I want to point out that if Proposition 11’s fair redistricting is successful this removes the justification for term limits.  Voters should be allowed to keep representatives as well as remove them.

Click through to Speak Out California