Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

California’s Redistricting Plan

In Redistricting on June 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

With the release of the long-awaited 53-seat California map and, considering its impact upon national redistricting, we devote this entire report to the Golden State’s new plan. Since this is the first time the state’s maps were drawn by a commission, California was viewed as a redistricting wild card. The results certainly lived up to expectations.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) released the first drafts for the congressional delegation, state Senate, Assembly, and Board of Equalization last Friday. With analytical data now available, the federal map’s partisan complexion is becoming clearer.

Generally, the Commission is getting good reviews for doing what was tasked. When adopted by the voting public, the CCRC was supposed to draw maps that adhered to all applicable laws, respected communities of interest more than incumbent protection, and made the districts as compact as possible by breaking the fewest numbers of county lines. It appears the Commission receives high marks for their first effort. The maps may be changed through public hearing and comments until July 7. Final adoption is scheduled on or before August 15. The first draft was unanimously passed 14-0.

After studying the map more closely, possible because the Meridian Pacific company released political data to coincide with the new district lines, it appears that the proposal is a bit less friendly to the Democrats than originally surmised. Though it is possible that the Dems could gain as many as three seats from the Republicans, it’s just as possible that they could lose a net of two districts. (Current Delegation: 34D-19R)

In all, it appears that 37 incumbents will have safe seats; 22 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Thirteen members, 10 Democrats and three Republicans, have some political problems either from being paired or placed in a district that is not favorable to their political party, or is highly marginal with no particular advantage to either side. Three additional seats (Reps. Dan Lungren (R-CA-3); Adam Schiff (D-CA-29); Susan Davis (D-CA-53) are borderline, meaning the current incumbent probably wins comfortably in 2012 but, as the decade progresses, their region could become much more competitive. The plan also created two open seats; one in Los Angeles and the other in Riverside.

The congressional draft features 11 sets of incumbent pairings, including a Central Valley district that contains the homes of three current incumbents. In only three of the 11 pairings, however, will it be likely that a sitting member does not return to the House.

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA-26) finds his current district split six ways, and though his home is placed in the same district as that of Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA-32) in the East San Gabriel-Covina district, his best chance to win re-election probably lies in the seat labeled “Ontario.” The CRCC has not yet numbered the districts, preferring to name them by geographic regions. The Ontario seat contains only about 30 percent of Mr. Dreier’s current district, and is much more Democratic. Already state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D), who represents much of this area in the legislature, has said she will run for Congress in this seat. So, Mr. Dreier will have a severe challenge, made even more difficult with President Obama on the ticket in 2012.

Veteran Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA-28) and Brad Sherman (D-CA-27) are paired in the West San Fernando Valley district. Sherman has 51 percent of the new territory versus just 19 percent for Berman. Sixty-one percent of Berman’s current seat lies in the East San Fernando Valley district, but this new open seat is 68 percent Hispanic, and Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas (D) has already said he will run here. Sherman would also have the option of challenging Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) in the East Ventura district, which is a very marginal seat for both sides. It is probable that either Sherman or Berman will not return, and very possibly both. Gallegly is also seriously endangered in his new district.

The final incumbent-damaging pairing is in the East Los Angeles seat as Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-31) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34) find themselves sharing the newly configured district. Neither has a good option of moving to an incumbent-less seat so, unless one retires, the two will square-off in the next Democratic primary.

All of the other pairings, including the three-way among Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), Jeff Denham (D-CA-19), and Jim Costa (D-CA-20) give the incumbents an opportunity to hop to a nearby district, thus avoiding challenging another incumbent. In this particular instance, however, both Cardoza and Costa could face serious Republican opposition, while Denham looks to have a seat that he can easily win.

Other incumbents likely to have a difficult time securing re-election are Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-11), Lois Capps (D-CA-23), Gary Miller (R-CA-42), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-47). Though all can survive, they will almost certainly face very tough opposition in a weaker district. The current 36th CD, now headed to special election in July, is also a marginal seat under the new map. The district is labeled “Palos Verdes-Beach Cities.” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn is expected to hold the seat for the Democrats, but she can expect competition in the regular election should she win next month.

This PDF spreadsheet details all 53 districts, with their new label and racial and political data. The political numbers come from the 2010 election and features the governor’s race, won by Democrat Jerry Brown 54-41 percent, and the extremely close attorney general’s contest where Democrat Kamala Harris was victorious by less than one percentage point.

  • Congressional Redistricting Now Completed:
  • Arkansas
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana *
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • (*Must obtain Justice Dept. pre-clearance)

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