10:00 PM PST on Thursday, November 25, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Heading into the holidays a decade ago, California politicians could look forward to a new year that included a legislative or congressional district crafted just for them or their party.

Out of roughly 780 contests since then, there have been only eight upsets of the partisan order established by politicians’ 2001 remap of district lines.

Today, members of Congress and the state Legislature can only watch and wait as 14 voters from around the state take control of the politically super-charged job of redrawing the state’s political map.

Current political lines wander through the state, creating dozens of oddly shaped districts that favor one political party or another and protect incumbents.

Under the voter-approved initiatives that created it, the Citizens Redistricting Commission is supposed to draw compact districts of voters that share “common social or economic interests.” It cannot take into account where incumbents live.

That means next year’s redistricting is likely to end the careers of some politicians, put others’ in jeopardy, and even prompt some to pack up and move, among other possibilities.

“They’ll be putting their Realtors on speed dial,” said Democratic consultant Kam Kuwata, who was involved in the last redistricting.

Adding to the uncertainty are doubts about whether the commission will get the nine votes needed to adopt redrawn districts by next August, and the possibility of legal challenges. Also, the districts are scheduled to debut the same year as the state’s new “top-two” primary system, in which general elections will feature the top primary finishers, regardless of party.

“There are a lot of changes coming,” said political analyst Tony Quinn, a former Republican redistricting staffer. “They have to get used to new districts and some of them won’t like it.”

Some parts of the state, such as the Bay Area, will lose political representation because of lower-than-average population gains in the past decade.

But in Inland Southern California, heavy population growth in the past decade means the region will get more political clout in the Legislature and Congress. In addition, Democrats could find new electoral opportunities in a region where the gerrymandered districts of 2001 favor Republicans.

Inland scenarios

There are multiple potential remapping scenarios in the Inland Empire.

In Congress, the future district of Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, is unlikely to include the same GOP-heavy extension into Orange County that ensured Calvert’s re-election in a close 2008 race.

The commission could center the district on western Riverside County, which would increase its Democratic registration.

In the state Senate, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, probably will not represent Riverside after 2011. The city most likely will become part of a Riverside County district represented by Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet. Emmerson, in turn, could lose the Coachella Valley portion of his district.

And in the state Assembly, the wandering Upland-to-Yucaipa district of Assemblyman-elect Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, will be no more.

The same goes for the lawnmower-shaped, Riverside-to-Palm Desert district of Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert. Nestande and his nearby colleague, Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, easily could end up sharing a redrawn district.

There also is the possibility that next year’s redraw will produce more competitive districts.

Inland Southern California currently includes all or parts of seven congressional districts. Republicans represent all but one of them and coasted to easy re-election wins this month.

Democratic congressional candidates, though, received 43 percent of the overall Inland vote. An independent redistricting could give Democrats a better shot at some seats in 2012.

INDEPENDENT PANEL

Prop. 11, passed in 2008, puts the redistricting commission in charge of creating new Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts. On Nov. 2, voters approved Prop. 20, making the panel also responsible for redrawing congressional lines.

Eight commission members were randomly selected on Nov. 18, including two from the Inland area: Norco attorney Jodie Filkins Webber and Claremont Councilman Peter Yao, both Republicans. All eight will be in Sacramento next week to choose the final six members of the commission from a pool of 28.

The commission ultimately will have five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who are not affiliated with either of the state’s two largest parties. Approving any remap will take nine votes, and at least three from each group.

Filkins Webber said the commission will be more responsive to voters than was the Legislature in 2001.

“The public has never been able to influence the process,” Filkins Webber said last week. “Although it’s 14 individuals who will be making the decision, they won’t be doing it by themselves.”

Charles Bell, an attorney for the California Republican Party, said incumbents and would-be candidates are watching closely.

“They’re obviously interested in it, both from a personal standpoint…but also from a partisan level,” Bell said. “There’s certainly the potential for incumbents in both the Legislature and Congress to be put in the same district.”

California’s commission also is drawing notice around the country. Politicians control redistricting in almost every other state.

“There’s a sense that no one knows how it will work and will it work,” said Tim Storey, a redistricting expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Can they get nine votes to come up with plans that satisfy everyone?”

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