State democrats pitch redistricting plans

The Associated Press
Thursday August 30, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Democrats proposed new districts Wednesday that would probably allow them to maintain their overwhelming majority in the state Assembly for the next decade. 

But the plan would also strengthen the GOP’s hold on its seats. 

“What you are going to find is this cements in place essentially the (results) of the 2000 election,” said Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican consultant on redistricting. “It reduces considerably any competitive districts. 

“It certainly is an incumbent plan. It has a lot of bipartisan characteristics.” 

The Assembly plan is the first of a series of redistricting proposals that lawmakers are expected to unveil this week. Plans for the state Senate and California’s congressional delegation could be released Thursday. 

Lawmakers are required to draw new districts for the Legislature and the congressional delegation every 10 years to reflect population changes revealed by the federal census. 

Democrats currently hold 50 of the Assembly’s 80 seats, and the plan released Wednesday would create 50 districts with Democratic pluralities or majorities, including an open seat covering Imperial County and part of Riverside County that was recast to favor Democrats. 

“I think we will retain 50 seats in the immediate future,” said the chairman of the Assembly elections committee, Democrat John Longville of Rialto. “It’s certainly possible to forecast (beyond that). Whether those predictions are accurate is something else again.” 

Democrats could conceivably win 51 seats next year if they can take the new Riverside-Imperial district and retain a San Diego-area district that is split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. 

That San Diego seat is now held by Democrat Howard Wayne, who is barred from running for re-election by term limits. Assembly Minority Leader Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, said Republicans were still analyzing the plans, but Longville predicted that most Republican lawmakers would end up supporting it. 

“We attempted to take into account the expressed concerns and wishes of members of the Republican Party,” he said. 

Democrats would need the votes of at least four Republicans to pass the plan with a two-thirds majority and prevent the GOP from asking voters to overturn it. 

Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said the plan was still open for negotiations, calling it a “work in progress” that could be modified after the Assembly holds hearings on it next week. 

Kathay Feng, an attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, said groups representing Asians and Pacific Islanders might challenge the plan in court if there are no changes. 

She said the plan was a “good first step” but that some districts in the San Francisco and San Diego areas should be altered to avoid splitting up voters of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage. 

“We are willing to work with the Assembly before this map goes to votes to see how many of our concerns are addressed...,” she said. “If there’s absolutely no change, there are some significant communities that will be forced to consider legal action.” 

Amadis Velez, redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said his group also might go to court if there are not changes in the plan bolstering the political clout of Latino communities. 

Groups representing Hispanics and Asians and Pacific Islanders have proposed their own plans for redrawing Assembly districts. 

Democrats control redistricting this year because of their big majorities in the state Senate and Assembly and the presence of Democrat Gray Davis in the governor’s office, and they could use that clout to try to draw districts that increase their numbers in Sacramento and Washington. 

But they said that tactic could backfire by spreading loyal Democratic voters too thinly and increasing chances of Republican gains. 

Longville said many districts had to be changed significantly because of uneven growth in the state in the last decade and because of requirements of federal law to maintain minority voting power. 

Under the Democrats’ plan the biggest change apparently would take place in Southern California and involve the 64th District, now a Republican stronghold in western Riverside County represented by Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside, who is termed out next year. 

The Democrats want to move that district to the south and east to include all of Imperial County and the most of eastern Riverside County, including Palm Springs and Indio. 

Democrats would make up just over 47 percent and Republicans about 35 percent of the new district’s voters. In the current district, Republicans have nearly a 46 percent-to-38-percent edge. 

Nearly 35 percent of the new district’s voters would be Hispanics. 


On the Net: Read the plan at www.assembly.ca.gov/erca