10:18 PM PDT on Friday, July 29, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Inland Southern California voters’ mailboxes, TV sets and newspapers would get a lot more campaign-season action under preliminary political maps approved Friday by the state’s independent redistricting panel.

Riverside and Moreno Valley would be the core of congressional, Senate and at least one Assembly district that, based on their voting histories, could be up for grabs at the ballot box.

A congressional seat stretching from Upland to Redlands also could be close, with the possibility of a nationally watched showdown between political heavyweights.

“People say they wanted competitive seats and they’re going to get them,” Matt Rexroad, a Republican redistricting expert and political consultant, said of the area.

But first, the preliminary maps approved Friday by the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission will need to be ratified Aug. 15 and then survive threatened lawsuits and possible efforts to overturn one or more plans through a voter referendum.

Commission members said they were confident that their work will stand up to scrutiny.

They pointed to the commission’s nearly three-dozen hearings around the state and thousands of comments received. By comparison, the current districts crafted by politicians in 2001 received fast-track approval after only a handful of public sessions.

Connie Galambos Malloy, the panel’s chairwoman, said the commission’s efforts to create fair districts will shake up California politics for the better.

“There are some districts where there are no incumbents. We have created a new landscape with opportunities for new leadership, from across California, to emerge,” said Galambos Malloy, a decline-to-state voter from Oakland.

Statewide, Democrats would outnumber Republicans by at least five percentage points in 51 Assembly, 26 Senate and 36 congressional districts, based on a review of the plans.

Redistricting experts said the maps likely would mean Democratic gains in the state’s congressional delegation and the state Senate. In the upper house, Democrats could reach the two-thirds margin needed to raise fees and taxes without Republican votes.

Republicans have stepped up criticism of the commission in recent weeks, contending that the panel’s maps, particularly for the Senate, are unfair.

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