FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2011, OR THEREAFTER
BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“WHY CALIFORNIA WILL LOSE CLOUT IN CONGRESS, AND WHERE”
Just a bit over 10 months from today we will all know the resolution of the great California redistricting controversy and we will also find out just how much clout this state will lose in Congress.
One thing that’s almost certain: Even if Republicans succeed in their lawsuits and other efforts to overturn the remaps of congressional and state Senate districts drawn by the first-time-ever Citizens Redistricting Commission, the districts in play in the election of next Nov. 6 will not look very different from what the commission drew.
It is strictly wishful thinking for the state’s GOP to think otherwise. And if a referendum to overturn the state Senate remap does qualify for the June ballot, as seems likely, it’s unclear what districts candidates might use when running in that same primary election. Would the new lines govern for the primary? Would the old, outmoded district lines drawn in 2002 remain in place one last time? Would courts have to step in and provide an alternative plan even before the vote on the referendum? Would there be two sets of maps, two sets of candidates in the primary? The same questions apply to the Republican lawsuits to overturn the new congressional map.
We don’t yet know the answers to those questions because the state has never before been in quite this situation.
But we do know these things: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in this state by more than a 60-40 percent margin. And most population growth of the last 10 years came in inland areas, including the Central Valley and Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Which means there will have to be slightly fewer districts in coastal areas, forcing some incumbents to move and others to fight each other in primary election races.
That’s why no one trying to do an honest job could come up with anything very different from the commission’s map while still meeting the legal requirements of making sure ethnic minorities are assured a level of representation somewhat in accord with their numbers.
All ofwhich means California will lose some clout in Congress. This will apply to both major political parties, for Californians in both parties have held major committee chairmanships over the last 10 years.
One reason they could do that was because they were almost guaranteed longevity by the remapping agreement of 2001, which left virtually all incumbents of both parties with “safe” districts. This allowed them to achieve the seniority needed to become the heads of House committees and subcommittees.
So Democrat Howard Berman from the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles rose to head the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Henry Waxman of Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles ran Government Oversight. George Miller of Martinez headed the Education and Labor Committee. Among Republicans, David Dreier of San Dimas in eastern Los Angeles County now chairs the vital Rules Committee, which can determine the fate of most legislation. Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita heads Armed Services and Elton Gallegly of Ventura County chairs a key immigration subcommittee, while Darrell Issa of San Diego County now runs Government Oversight.
“These (new) districts have been drawn without regard to incumbents or seniority,” Waxman moaned to a reporter. Since his prospective new district includes large areas he’s never before represented, Waxman might actually have to campaign actively to hold his office for the first time in more than 20 years. So might a lot of his colleagues. Imagine that!
Berman will be tossed into a district with 14-year veteran Democrat Brad Sherman, whose campaign manager bandied around a poll favoring Sherman soon after the redistricting commission’s new lines became known.
The precise lines might be a bit different if courts draw new maps, but the real reason for the Berman-Sherman collision isn’t lines, but the fact that the eastern part of Berman’s old district has become solidly Latino and court decisions demand that ethnic group must get a solid shot at more representation.
Gallegly’s once-majority Republican district will also change, no matter whose map becomes final, in part because the area now has many more Democrats than 10 years ago. So he faces a Hobson’s choice of running in a largely Democratic district or challenging the entrenched McKeon. He may solve the problem by retiring.
Dreier now gets a largely Democratic district where he could be an underdog in a reelection fight. He may also retire rather than risk defeat, hoping to hitch on in a new Republican administration if President Obama turns out to be a one-termer.
Any way you cut all this, California figures to lose several very senior members of Congress, people who have been influential committee chairs. It will take awhile before the state’s coming new congressional crop can reach their level of seniority, which means it will be some time before the state enjoys as much clout in the Capitol as it has recently had.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net