Tag Archives: redistricting commission

Report: Redistricting Commission Succeeded

New report praises commission, commissioners for process, results

by Brian Leubitz

The redistricting commission wasn’t particularly popular when it passed. Nor were great results predicted by many, including myself. However, I’ve thoroughly changed my tune, and acknowledge the solid work done by the 14 commissioners and staff in creating a new system with transparency and openness.

Now a new report sponsored by the League of Women Voters finds that the system was popular statewide, and really did their job. (h/t Josh Richman)

A new report “When the People Draw the Lines,” finds that California’s first citizen-led redistricting commission successfully democratized redistricting in the state. In fact, among the estimated 1/3 of the voters who were familiar with the work of the commission, over 66% of the public approved of the CRC district maps.

The report, commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California in partnership with The James Irvine Foundation, found that the commission made a concerted effort to make the process more democratic and nonpartisan. In particular, the commission effectively gathered input from Californians through developing a statewide campaign with public meetings, open databases and online engagement.

Nobody can accuse the commission of not holding enough meetings. Having attended a few of them myself, I have to congratulate them on sitting through all that. Many of the speakers provided excellent input, some not so much. But they held 34 public meetings around the state, and listened to over 2700 speakers. Impressive indeed.

The report also made a few suggestions on how to improve. Most notably, the report suggested the process begin earlier to give the commissioners more time to do their job. Near the end of the process, meetings got squished together and probably could have benefited from a bit of extra deliberation.

The report also noted that having all 14 members at all of the hearings was a bit resource intensive. Having smaller subpanels would speed up the process and reduce travel costs. And while a lot of effort and resources were spent on selection of the commissioners, more time should have gone into training them.

The redistricting panels would probably be a good model for other states, but as of right now, more Democratic leaning states have moved to them than Republican states. As shown with the redistricting debacle in Texas, Republicans aren’t so keen on giving up their mapping authority. But having seen the process first hand, it is probably best for the people to not have politicians choosing their own districts.

A Quick Summary of the Senate Map Legal Opinion

A quick, and probably wildly inaccurate, summary of the decision.

by Brian Leubitz

I read the decision very quickly (you can find it over the flip), so I likely missed many of the finer points.  Nonetheless, I figured I wanted to get this up quickly, so, my apologies for any errors.  At any rate, today the Court decided a few issues:

1) They have authority to intervene and provide a new map if a Redistricting map is challenged.

2) The Commission map is the best map to use in the interim, as it does the best job of adhering to the goals set forth in the redistricting initiative, even if the referendum gets on the ballot.

The discussion at the hearing was sort of meandering, but touched on all of these issues.  Starting with the Commission’s map, the entire Court agreed that it was the best map to use both for June and November.  Interestingly, there were two semi-conflicting decisions from Supreme Court precedence to choose from.  Legislature v. Reinecke held that the 1972 maps, which were vetoed by Gov. Reagan, could not be used. Rather, the previous maps based on 1960 census data should be used. The maps proposed by the 1972 Legislature had only been presented in a “truncated” Legislative process.

On the other hand, Assembly v Deukmejian held that the maps signed into law Gov. Jerry Brown and put to a referendum by the Republicans should go ahead in 1982.  The Court reasoned that

Although the Constitution of our state grants the power to initiate a referendum to 5 percent of the voters, it does not require that the effect of that referendum be articulated in a manner that does such serious injury to conflicting and equally compelling constitutional mandates.

In other words, there were competing Constitutional interests. The right to a referendum, which is provided in the state Constitution, and the principle of “One person, One vote.” (OPOV) Using the old maps would have meant that districts would be out of balance.  In 1972, the Court held that the never really approved, because they were vetoed, maps could not be imposed, the principle of OPOV had to take a back seat because it would be far more destructive to impose the fake maps than it would be to just accept disproportionate districts for two more years. At the same time, because the 1972 district netted 2 Congressional seats, the Court let those be imposed on an interim basis.  So, apparently they weren’t so odious or destructive.

On the other hand, the legitimately passed 1982 maps were put in place, for reasons both of pragmatism and of principle.  The maps had been duly passed by the Legislature.  While the right of referendum was an important Constitutional right, it was not so important as to throw the system into chaos.  This was a 4-3 decision, with the dissenters basically calling the decision a wholly political one.

And with that in mind, the Court ultimately decided that the Assembly v Deukmejian was more applicable in this instance.  The referendum situation ultimately bearing more similarity to the newer case than the older.

The court considered several maps in the case the referendum is put on the ballot:

  1. The 2002 maps. They would have resulted in districts that varied by nearly 40% from largest to smallest. The court ultimately dismissed this as varying too far from the OPOV and not complying with the standards set in the 2008 redistricting initiative.
  2. “Nesting ADs” – The Republicans also suggested just nesting assembly districts, which I suppose might present them with somewhat better chances to get to 1/3 representation. However, these districts did not in any meaningful way meet the listed requirements of the 2008 initiative (now Article XXI) and would “defer” too many voters from their new districts for too long.
  3. The GOP Dream Plan – Basically, Republicans hired Anthony Quinn, an advisor to the GOP redistricting efforts in 1971 and 1981( and author one of five co-editors of the California Target Book) to come up with a set of maps when they first challenged the maps for legality, and now they want to try it again. The Court said this would take too long and would not yield a better map than the final option.
  4. The Commission map – The SoS and the Commission argued that the commission map best meets the goals of Art XXI, is ready to be implemented, and would cause the least amount of upheavel. Ultimately, the Court agreed, adding that any new plan would not be vetted by the public at all and yield additional hardship

Now, while seemingly less interesting, the question of authority seems to have been a more controversial question. In fact, Justice Liu wrote a concurring opinion, but pointed out that the Court did not need to come to a decision on whether they have the power to intercede in a situation where the referendum is only likely to succeed. I’ll not dwell too long on this issue, but if you are interested, read the concurring opinion down there at the end of the decision.

To put it as succinctly as possible, Justice Liu feels that the majority could have come to the decision of using the Commission’s map without deciding that “under California Constitution, article VI, section 10, this court is authorized to issue an order to show cause and decide which districts should be used in the event a proposed referendum directed at a Commission-certified redistricting map qualifies for the ballot, even in the absence of a showing that the proposed referendum is likely to qualify for the ballot.”

He felt that the decision could have been arrived at simply by looking at the superiority of the Commission’s map as an interim map. Legally, narrowly tailored decisions are preferred, so this one went too far. Perhaps Liu is right that at some point in the future this decision could be abused for political purposes, but ultimately it is a question that will bear more importance in the future than it does for the 2012 Senate maps.

And so, as they say, that is a quick summary of the case.

Redistricting Decision

CA Supreme Court: Use Commission Maps for 2012

As I mentioned earlier, the Supreme Court decided a few things on redistricting today. Obviously this is a major blow to the Republicans. Let the whining commence:

Republican State Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel, a leader of the referendum drive, blasted the ruling as “shortsighted and disrespectful” of California voters who signed petitions and are awaiting the opportunity to vote on the commission’s Senate maps.

“They kind of gutted the whole idea behind the referendum process,” said Dave Gilliard, another leader of the drive to kill the maps.

Peter Yao, current chairman of the commission, countered that use of the commission maps is important to maintain electoral stability and that the challenge is based on “partisan self interest” that has “cost precious taxpayer dollars to defend.”(SacBee)

Except that, as the court stated in the decision the power of referendum isn’t the only constitutional right in question in this case. The power of referendum, which grants to 5 percent of the state’s voters the power to put to a vote, does not override all other constitutional rights.

But whine as they may, the Commission’s maps do present a very good Democratic opportunity to pick up that fateful 27th seat.  With Sen. Blakeslee already saying he wouldn’t run in the Commission’s district, there are few routes for the Republicans to maintain 14 seats. Possible, certainly, but they’ll need a pretty strong election cycle.

It is all rather ironic, really. Now that Schwarzenegger got his wish in the redistricting initiative, the Republicans are freaking out. While the Republicans (and ProPublica) whine that the system was gamed, six Republican appointees just finalized (mostly) the process.

As was said on Twitter by many Sacramento-watchers, what could the CRP have done with all the money they just wasted on this measure. It now seems rather hard to fathom that the CRP either has the resources to pass this measure, or would even want to.  Who knows what other map is around the corner. This was really all about stalling the Commission maps for a cycle. It would have been expensive and unlikely that they could defeat the maps, and the CRP knew that. They were just hoping to hold on for one more cycle.

So much for that.  I’ll be posting a brief summary of the legal opinion shortly.

CA Supreme Court to Decide Senate Maps Today

Court must decide how they want to intervene with impending referendum possible in June

by Brian Leubitz

UPDATE: Here is the decision in PDF.  Basically the Court opted for the suggestion that I believe was made by Justice Liu to use the Commission’s maps on an interim basis if the referendum does succeed in getting on the ballot. At the hearing, Justice Liu noted that it was at the very least one way of meeting all the goals of redistricting initiative.  So, on that, we now know the maps we’ll be voting on in June and November. More in a bit.

At the beginning of the month, the courts held a hearing on what do about the Senate maps.  As you may recall, the Republicans spent a bunch of money, mostly from Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph, to gather signatures to put the Senate map to a referendum.  You see, the maps present something of an existential crisis for the Senate Republican caucus.  While it isn’t a sure thing that Democrats will exceed the necessary 27 Senators to attain 2/3 in the Senate, the new map presents an exceedingly good opportunity to do so.  Heck, Sam Blakeslee has already said he wouldn’t run again unless his district changes. After that, you basically only need to pick up one more seat from 2 or 3 lean-Dem opportunities.

And dipping below 1/3 of the Senate would basically mean that the swing vote would no longer be a Republican, but a conservative Democrat. It is a prospect that would dry up funding from lobbyists, as who really wants to lobby an irrelevant politician? Whatever power they do have through the supermajority revenue measure would do little for them. They claim they gathered sufficient signatures, but that is far from clear.  As of right now, the status of the initiative is that it had enough signatures to not be bounced at the random check stage, but not enough that it didn’t have to get a more thorough check.  The more thorough check won’t be decided until mid to late February.

The problem with that is that it would leave precious little time to come up with some other map to vote on for the June “primary” election. The Supreme Court’s hearing thus addressed which of many map options they could use, what the meaning of “likely to qualify” is, and whether they could use the Commission’s map instead of drawing their own.  

The decision is expected at 10AM today, and will be published on the Court’s website.  You can also find the video of the oral hearing here.

CRP Submits Signatures for Senate Redistricting Referendum

Party that put redistricting on the ballot decides it didn’t work out for them after all.

by Brian Leubitz

Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the center of many of the so-called “good government reforms” of the past decade. The same is true of the redistricting initiatives.  Our former Republican governor was all about the commission, and how it is going to make our districts more fair and competitive.  Now, the competitive thing was something of a joke anyway, as we have already self-sorted to such a degree that it would be nearly impossible to draw more than 25% of districts competitive even if that was your main goal.

But other Republicans besides the Governator weren’ts always as excited about the commission. They had managed to hold off irrelevancy by getting some pretty rigged districts to allow them to maintain their super-minority 1/3+ in both legislative chambers.  

It turns out that the maps we got from the commission were not to the Republicans liking. Very not to their liking.  And with some cash from Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph, the CRP managed to get what looks to be enough signatures to put the Senate map to a referendum on the June ballot.  Here’s their press release.

The question of the districts for next year now goes to the courts, as they will now have to determine which maps we vote on during the June primary.  They can either opt to go with the commission’s maps or have a special master draw up a new Senate map.  I’m sure you will be hearing something about this fairly soon, as candidates, elections officials, and activists are all needing to get an idea for what Senate district they are in.

So, thanks for that CRP, confusion and chaos, the hallmarks of a good Republican party.

UPDATE: Given the amount of signatures that the CRP folks turned in, checking the signatures is going to take a long time.  They only turned in just over 700K signatures, and given standard validity rates, they will be around 103-107% of the target.  According to California law, that means a more timely “full count.”

With the minimum valid signatures for a referendum being 504,760, the Senate redistricting referendum would need a projected 555,236 valid signatures (110% of the number required) to quickly qualify.

But Gilliard said in an email this afternoon that he believes the final valid signature tally won’t be above 520,000 (103% of the required number) and could be as low as 518,000 (103% of the required number). That would mean a full count… and much longer for the final verdict to be rendered.

And here’s where we come back to the legal fight.

The original plaintiff, Orange County GOP activist Julie Vandermost, is also the proponent of the referendum. Vandermost’s lawsuit, rejected on October 26 by the California Supreme Court, asserted that the existence of a redistricting referendum, under the process laid out by Proposition 11 and Proposition 20, compels the Court to draw interim Senate districts for 2012. (CapNotes)

So, we’re talking about this measure possibly qualifying after the date that candidates can formally announce their bids for the district.  Given those considerations, does anybody think that the Court could do anything but temporarily pick maps that already exist? And since using the old maps would violate the whole one man, one vote thing, what other maps are available to use for a June primary other than the commission maps?

Now, if the referendum does indeed kill the maps in June, the Court will need to draw up new maps.  Whether the CRP will like those anymore is anybody’s guess.  That being said, it seems quite unlikely that the electorate will really over turn maps drawn by an independent commission based upon what is likely to be seen as Republican partisan BS.  The June primary will be pretty awful for Democrats, but Republicans will probably have already selected their nominee. Even in these partisan conditions is a partisan argument really going to carry the day?

But, be prepared for “they’re going to raise your taxes” ads threatening the end of the Republican veto.

Republican Senate Map Referendum Get More Cash Momentum

And deceptive signature gathering practices abound…

by Brian Leubitz

Last week, I ran into Safeway to grab a few groceries and saw the various assortment of your typical signature gatherers. I’m always intrigued to see what they are pushing, and how hard they are pushing it, so I took a look.

It looked like the one who approached me had a couple of clipboards but she only asked me about one, a measure to “repeal the new districts proposed by the NAACP.”

“Interesting,” I said, “because that measure is in fact paid for by the California Republican Party. They have already pumped more than a half a million dollars into it.”

“Oh, that’s not what they told me. They told me it was from the NAACP and Equality California.”

“Well,” I said, “that just isn’t true, and you probably shouldn’t be telling people that.”

I was in a bit of a rush so I ran in and grabbed my few groceries. As I was headed out, I saw the signature gatherer speak to another gentleman.  I quickly told him that it was paid for by the Republican party and he immediately said no thanks.

That’s when the story gets more interesting, as the other signature gatherer decides to tell me that it was Equality California that hated the Senate maps.  I assured him that was not true and that I am in fairly regular contact with EQCA.  He would not take no for an answer and kept telling me that Equality California was paying for this.  That is somewhat laughable as it fairly well-known that EQCA is having some serious money issues and could not consider funding something like that even if they were against the maps. (Which, as far as I know, they are not.)

But, rest assured, dear reader, that it was the CRP and their friends that are trying to put the referendum on the ballot. The irony that their one time savior, Arnold Schwarzenegger, put this thing on the ballot is kind of funny.  But, now the right-wing interests are out to get it:

The financial woes of the California Republican Party have been well documented. The state GOP had just over $200,000 in the bank as of July 1, but in recent days, it has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into an effort to repeal the new state Senate district lines drawn by an independent commission earlier this year.

The source of that money has been the source of some speculation in Capitol circles since it began moving late last week. Jeff Green, a spokesman for George Joseph, the head of Mercury Insurance, confirmed Tuesday that Joseph wrote the state party a $1-million check to specifically fund the state party’s efforts to have those Senate district lines redrawn. (LA Times)

Joseph also funded last year’s Prop 17, the skeezy insurance measure that would discriminate against drivers that dropped their coverage for whatever reason. If they do get the entirety of this million bucks to the signature gatherers, they have a decent shot at qualifying, but it is far from guaranteed. They have to get 504,000 valid signatures by Nov. 13.

Now, the California Supreme Court today unanimously said that the Senate and Congressional maps are valid under the state and federal constitutions.  If the CRP is successful in gathering enough signatures, it will then be up to the Court to decide which maps the state should use in June when the referendum will take place.  They could either have their own drawn up by a special master, or just use the maps the commission drew up.  It certainly wouldn’t shock me to see them just use the Commission’s maps even if it does go to a referendum.  And, of course if the referendum goes through, well, all hell breaks loose and the Court has to come up with a new map.

Few Aware of Redistricting Commission, Fewer Want Repeal

Republican effort to repeal maps faces uphill battle

Approve(y) % Disapprove(N) %
Congress Map-All 42 29
Congress Map-Heard 52 30
Senate Map-All 44 28
Senate Map-Heard 62 22

by Brian Leubitz

Field Poll’s latest effort focuses on the question of the redistricting commission (full PDF here), and well, wait, that happened?

California voters are inclined to support the political maps drawn by a commission they created, but nearly two-thirds are unfamiliar with the work of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a new Field Poll shows.

The survey found huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisans unfamiliar with the 14-member panel and its work this year to craft new political boundaries for 80 state Assembly seats, 40 Senate seats and 53 members of Congress from California.(SacBee)

To the right, you can see the numbers, but one thing sticks out.  Informed voters like the plan and aren’t interested in repealing them.  As in, they remember about the fact that they played a part in approving Prop 11, and don’t really mind how it went down.  That’s really not good news for those who are trying to repeal the Senate and Congressional maps (the Republicans.)  

Already we’re hearing about spin on these numbers, arguing that claims of special interests getting preferential treatment will inspire voters to kick the maps back to the “independent” (as in, vastly more Republican than the state as a whole) judiciary.

Unless some sort of major funding (as in tens of millions) comes in, these maps look pretty solid to survive.  Good luck to the Republicans in their effort to play the good government hero against, um, well, those evil nonpartisan good government organizations.

New Senate Map Heads to Court

Republicans aim to get new map drawn

by Brian Leubitz

After their fallen savior, Arnold Schwarzenegger, set up the redistricting commission and pushed it through the electorate, Republicans were admittedly a bit worried.  Well, it seems they are in an all-out panic as they are concerned that Democrats could get a 2/3 majority in the Senate.  They are already gathering signatures to put the measure on the ballot, and they have raised a decent amount of cash for that effort.  

But there is some concern on their side that the maps would be used for 2012 even if they do get it on the ballot.  And so, a lawsuit:

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is an Orange County businesswoman but it was prepared by attorneys for the group Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR) , which is backed by the California Republican Party and Senate Republican Caucus.

“We think there are serious constitutional flaws in the Senate plan related to what the commission was required to do and what they ended up doing,” said Dave Gilliard, the political consultant behind the group.  “There were numerous examples of cities and counties being split between districts irrationally and without explanation.” (LA Times)

Except there is one, giant, gaping whole in their logic: somebody had to be split up.  In every redistricting process where you have to divide every district equally, you have to split some geographic or political community up somehow.  That’s just the numbers.  This year Sacramento County drew the short stick, but it is always somebody.  It seems a big stretch to say that the commission didn’t follow the new rules requiring consideration of boundaries, especially as that was third down the line, with Voting Rights Act considerations trumping all else.

Of course, they are bringing the VRA up in this legislation, but considering the lengths the commission went to in their process on the VRA, anything more than a few minor tweaks seems unlikely.  But, facing irrelevance, the Senate Republicans are pulling out all the stops.

Redistricting Referendum Gets Wilson’s Support

Former Governor Joins Effort to Overturn Commission’s Maps

by Brian Leubitz

While Arnold Schwarzenegger was all over the place in his effort to pass the redistricting measure on the ballot a few years back, his fellow California Republicans were very mixed on the subject.  Some supported it out of team jersey loyalty, while others just weren’t comfortable with an unknown entity.

It seems that discomfort lingers, as the Republican Senate Caucus, along with some other rich Republicans, is attempting to kill the maps.  They now have a brand new, and high profile, ally:

Wilson and other GOP leaders have sent out a fundraising appeal to help finance a referendum drive that would give the state’s voters a chance to repeal the maps drawn by a Citizens Redistricting Commission. The GOP leaders say in a five-page memo to several thousand potential donors that the new districts could help give Democrats a two-thirds majority in the Senate. …

“The state Senate lines drawn by the California Redistricting Commission virtually guarantee a Democrat Super-majority in the California State Senate in 2012,” the mailer added. “A successful drive to put a referendum on the June 2012 ballot is the best way to prevent this from happening.” (LA Times)

And perhaps they are right, as the maps do put a few additional seats in the toss-up column and make a 2/3 majority in the Legislature possible.  It seems more likely in the Senate, and that’s why we are seeing the Republican Senate caucus pouring money into the initiative.

But the problem for the Republicans is that even a victory at the ballot doesn’t mean that they’ll get what they want.  If they do get an initiative on the ballot, the district lines will be tossed to the judges.  And while there are more Republicans on the Court, they aren’t really the idealogues that the Republicans really want.  And they are very process-y, which would seem to indicate that they would prefer something similar to the maps as drawn by the commission.

But, right now they are sitting at just $92,500, and they are going to need a lot more money fast to get the referendum on the ballot.

It’s Redistricting Day!

Redistricting Commission votes on final maps today

by Brian Leubitz

“Paying off” is really a loaded phrase.  Sure, the redistricting commission has done a ton of work, and they deserve rich praise for that.  But, as noted last week, it is something of a fool’s errand. The districts are too large, and so they are constantly fighting competing interests that ensure few will be really satisfied when the time comes. But, today is the day when the work of the Commission will “pay off.”

Be that as it may, today is the day that the Commission will vote on its final maps.  They have already tentatively approved the last visualization, and it appears that they have the votes for passage.  However, over the last few days, they have been receiving testimony of disgruntled groups.  Some are more serious than others.  Notably, MALDEF has suggest rejection of these maps because they underrepresent the Latino community.  Many other localized, and valid, concerns have been raised.  But, the feeling from the meetings is that the Commissioners feel that this is the best they could do.

The GOP has been putting public pressure on one of the 3 supportive Republicans to change their vote, but that seems unlikely.  If it is approved, expect to see the GOP quickly file papers for a referendum.  They are terrified that they might lose their superminority in one or both houses of the Legislature.  However, whether they have the money is seriously in doubt.  As of last reports, they had less than a quarter of a million dollars in the bank.  That’s not enough to throw a good party, let alone put a measure on the ballot.

But at some level, there has to be a sense of fatalism to the complaints:

If it’s all just grumbling, then perhaps the lessons of this redistricting process — the first of its kind in California — will improve future efforts. The ultimate reality of redistricting is that the lines have to go somewhere; but keeping the criticism at a low level will no doubt help remind voters why they chose the new system in the first place.(John Myers)

With lines that nearly touch a million, there are going to be some very tough choices.  That is inevitable.  And people will be disappointed.  Peter Schrag, in a brilliant column, over at the California Progress Report points out that pretty much everybody is going to be disappointed in one way or another.  And, despite the potential for Democrats to take 2/3 majorities in each House, it may not be enough:

But maybe the biggest frustrated expectation in this set of political reforms could be the hope of the left that Democrats may at last get the two or three additional seats in each house to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes without Republican votes.

Democrats may get the seats, but don’t count on the votes. The Republican minority, in rigidly blocking any road to tax increases or, as this year, even a ballot measure giving voters a chance to extend the expiring taxes that the legislature itself approved in prior years, also protected Democrats from the voter backlash against the tax increases that they might have voted for. California Democrats have also voted for corporate tax loopholes.

If any new competitive districts produce those marginal Democrats, how eager will they be to vote for boosts in the vehicle license fee, the sales tax, or the gas tax? How willing would Gov. Jerry Brown be to sign such tax increases? In his last terms as governor his austere heart was always in thinking small for an era of limits. He stiffed the universities and never trusted big institutions.(Peter Schrag)

But for today, let’s keep an eye on the Redistricting Commission.  They are likely to get a few legal challenges, and perhaps that referendum.  However, the redistricting task is a huge one, and they’ve done their best in a thoughtful process.  You can watch the meetings live at their website and check out the maps here.  The meeting is today at 9AM in Room 4203 of the State Capitol.