Proposed 53rd District seen likely to elect a Democrat

By Steve Lawrence Associated Press Writer
Saturday September 01, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Democrats trying to recapture control of the House of Representatives may not get much help from a redistricting plan unveiled Friday by California legislators. 

The plan appears to give Democrats only the one additional seat awarded the state because of population growth revealed by last year’s federal census. 

The plan reconfigures the district currently held by Rep. Gary Condit, the Ceres Democrat plagued by scandal following the disappearance of Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy. 

Condit’s district picks up a large number of new Democratic voters, but many of them have never voted for the 12-year House veteran. Analysts said many would be unlikely to vote for someone they know mostly through controversy. 

Democrats hold 32 of California’s current 52 seats, but national Democratic leaders were hoping that redistricting would produce two or three more California seats that Democratic candidates could win. 

The party needs to pick up at least six seats nationally to end eight years of Republican majorities in the House. 

Democrats control redistricting in the nation’s most populous state because of their majorities in the Legislature and the presence of Democrat Gray Davis in the governor’s office. 

But California Democrats point to their gain of five seats in the state in the 2000 elections and warn that trying to create several more Democratic congressional seats here could backfire by spreading loyal party voters too thinly. 

“For all kinds of reasons, I think this was about what the traffic would bear,” said Rep. Howard Berman, D-North Hollywood. 

But he said the plan would still give Democrats a “higher percentage of the California delegation than we’ve ever had before.” And it’s still possible that Democrats could win more than 33 seats, he said. 

“You never know in politics,” he said. “We now hold seats we never thought we would hold five or 10 years go.” 

Republicans like the plan, even though it would significantly alter some of their districts and cut up the Long Beach area seat now held by Republican Steve Horn. 

“We are happy that the good faith effort that Republicans and Democrats had with one another seems to have been fruitful,” said Brad Smith, a spokesman for Rep. David Dreier of San Dimas, the chairman of the state’s Republican delegation to the House. 

Horn’s seat would be replaced by a strongly Republican district in the southern San Joaquin Valley. 

Democrats would presumably pick up the new 53rd District, which would be based in the Lakewood-Lynwood-Southgate area of Los Angeles County and would be heavily Democratic and Hispanic. 

Mark Nevins, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the plan could help Democrats nationally by shoring up several incumbents who now represent marginal districts, including including Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara. 

Her narrow new district would hug the central coast from the Monterey County line to Oxnard in Ventura County, turning it from a district with slightly more Republicans than Democrats into one in which Democrats would outnumber Republicans by more than 41,000. 

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who now represents a San Francisco Bay area district that has slightly more Democrats than Republicans, would get 30,000 more Democrats under the plan. 

But she has criticized the changes, claiming they would take away familiar territory and voters in retaliation for not supporting a Californian, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for minority whip. 

Tony Quinn, a political analyst and former Republican consultant on redistricting, said Democrats could have created several more Democratic-leaning districts “but they would have had to sacrifice some of their sweetheart seats.” 

He said the plan was good for Republicans because it took away the Horn seat, which they might have lost in next year’s elections, and gave them a strongly Republican seat to replace it. 

Many of the new districts take quirky twists and turns, including the new district that includes Condit’s hometown. It features a chicken-neck-like extension that would stretch it up into heavily Democratic precincts in Stockton. 

Condit was considered a shoo-in for re-election until the Levy disappearance. 

While the partisan breakdown seems aimed at preserving the delegation’s current balance, some Republican incumbents face new districts that put them in new territory. Rep. Doug Ose, R-Sacramento, would get a district that stretches from Sacramento to the Nevada line, while his current district stretches north. 

The plan was drafted for the Democratic members of the congressional delegation and will be introduced in the state Senate. Assembly Democratic leaders have said they may also introduce a congressional redistricting plan. 

State legislators are required to approve new congressional and legislative districts to reflect population shifts revealed by last year’s federal census.