James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Created: 02/17/2010 06:11:20 PM PST

More than 30,000 Californians have said they want to help redraw the state’s legislative districts, but they’ll never get the chance if powerful California Democrats have their way.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and a dozen other Democrats from California’s Congressional delegation have donated a total of $140,000 to a campaign to scrap the Citizens Redistricting Commission, created by the passage of Proposition 11 in 2008.

That doesn’t sit well with many Republicans, political analysts or Inland Empire residents who applied to be redistricting commissioners.

“It just seems to me like it puts the cats in charge of the hen house,” said Rebecca Ashworth of Highland, a retired kindergarten teacher who applied to be a commissioner. “The way political boundaries were drawn, it just kind of makes safe districts for everybody. I think that’s where a lot of our trouble is.”

The Pelosi-backed measure, called the Financial Accountability in Redistricting Act, or FAIR Act, would ensure all of California’s legislative districts – for Congress and the state Assembly and Senate – are drawn next year by the state Legislature, not by the citizens commission. If backers can gather nearly 700,000 signatures supporting the measure, it would appear on the November ballot.

Every 10 years, following the national Census, states redraw the boundaries of their legislative districts – the areas represented by members
of Congress and the state Assembly and Senate. In 2001, as in most years, California’s lines were drawn by the state Legislature and approved by the governor.

But political analysts say those boundaries were drawn in ways that practically guaranteed they would be controlled by either Democrats or Republicans, with very few districts that could see a genuine competition between the two major parties. That has the effect of protecting incumbent lawmakers – the ones who drew the boundaries.

That style of redistricting has led to oddly shaped districts that split up many communities and, analysts say, favor lawmakers who are further to the left or right than their constituents as a whole.

That means a legislature filled with liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans and few if any moderates. That’s why Rancho Cucamonga resident Angela Su applied for the redistricting commission.

“Much of the gridlock in the capital is related to the extremes having power,” she said, “which means we can never really compromise on anything.”

In 2008, California voters approved Prop. 11, which called for a group of 14 Californians – including Democrats, Republicans and voters of neither major party – to draw some of the lines instead. The commission would draw boundaries for state Assembly and Senate districts, while the Legislature would still draw Congressional districts.

But another proposition, one that might appear on the November ballot, would call for the commission to redraw Congressional districts as well. Johnson said that measure is the real target of the FAIR Act.

“This is a big smokescreen whose real goal is to simply confuse voters by putting it on the ballot next to (the) initiative that would bring Congressional redistricting to the commission,” Johnson said. “It’s all a very expensive play to try to fool voters.”

Democrats control the state Legislature, meaning any redistricting done by the Legislature will likely favor Democrats, Johnson said. Hence, Congressional Democrats want to make sure that the Legislature is responsible for Congressional redistricting at least.

“They like control,” Johnson said. “Any politcal group that has control over the process and controls the playing field wants to keep it. … Incumbents hate the unknown and the commission is a giant unknown.”

Daniel Lowenstein, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a proponent of the FAIR Act, said the act aims to save millions of dollars that would be spent by the commission. He also said redistricting never should have been taken out of the Legislature’s hands.

Redistricting, he said, is a political process and “when you try to take a political process and put it in the hands of bureaucrats who are supposed to be non-partisain, it’s a fraud and it’s not going to work.”

He said some of the goals of the commission – to draw more compact districts, for instance – are “nonsense.”

The offices of Pelosi and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, did not return calls seeking comment.

Republican lawmakers, though, slammed the FAIR Act, calling it a ridiculous attempt to wrest power from the public.

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