Area’s growth seen as helping Democrats
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/19/2009 04:43:34 PM PST

The Inland Empire’s rapid growth over the past decade means the region will almost certainly have more representation – and more elected Democrats – in Sacramento beginning in 2012, experts say.

“There’s no question in my mind, as far as population goes, that the Inland Empire will gain additional seats,” said Tony Quinn, a California political analyst and co-author of the California Target Book, which handicaps political races. “I would expect to see at least one additional assembly seat in your general area, maybe more.”

Political observers say gaining a few more seats – perhaps two Assembly seats and one Senate seat – won’t give the region much more political clout, but new seats could change the region’s political face.

“On some issues, regional issues, such as water, it slightly increases (the region’s) leverage,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “But it’s not revolutionary. San Bernardino County isn’t going to be suddenly flowing with milk and honey because of this.”

What could be revolutionary, though, are new districts that would likely have Latino majorities. Those districts would likely be represented by Latinos – as are most Latino-majority districts.

The bulk of population growth in San Bernardino County and the Inland Empire has been among Latinos, who traditionally align themselves with the Democratic Party.

Despite that, just two of six Assembly seats representing southern San Bernardino County and far eastern Los Angeles County are held by Democrats. One of the area’s three state Senate seats are held by Democrats.

That balance is expected to shift after redistricting, Quinn said.

“Much of the growth has been middle class Latinos moving out from L.A.,” Quinn said. “I would think you will find additional opportunities for the Democrats.”

Carol Robb, chairwoman of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party, said that’s because Democrats have made a point of including Latinos while Republicans are often seen as hostile to Latinos.

She cited high desert state Sen. George Runner’s VoteSAFE ballot initiative, which would require voters to present a photo ID at the polls. Latino activists have called VoteSAFE an attempt to disenfranchise Latinos.

“I think (Republicans’) technique of fearmongering is coming back to haunt them,” Robb said. “They create this big myth that all of these people who aren’t citizens are voting, but show me the documentation. Show me some evidence.”

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, has put numerous Latinos in the state Assembly and Senate, including in leadership positions.

“Look at our next Assembly speaker,” Robb said, referring to Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who is expected to take on that role next year. “Latinos have always played an important role in the Democratic Party, and not just in the grassroots, but in terms of real influence.”

Runner, who represents the Victorville area, said polling shows most Latinos support his VoteSAFE initiative and that in some parts of the state, Latinos are turning toward Republicans because of their stance on the state’s water issues.

But Robert Rego, chairman of the county Republican Party, acknowledged that the party has done a poor job of reaching out to Latinos. Looking ahead to the 2011 redistricting and the 2012 election, he said that will be a party priority.

“We’re looking at how we can participate in community projects and nonprofit projects in Hispanic neighborhoods,” Rego said. “We’ve not done as good a job as we should, and I think we need to start looking at how we can interface.”

Along with creating districts that could have Latino majorities, the redistricting process is expected to fundamentally change the state’s legislative map. Rather than adjust current district boundaries, Johnson said he expects new boundaries “will be drawn from a blank slate.”

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