Lines to shift for I.E. politics

James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/20/2009 09:24:19 PM PST

It’s not clear who will redraw California’s congressional districts in 2011, but it’s a near certainty that the Inland Empire will have more seats in Congress once the new lines are in place, experts say.

Thanks to the state’s partisan redistricting process, a new Inland Empire seat would likely be Democrat-controlled and would come at the expense of the Bay Area, which has grown much more slowly than San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

“It’s probably going to be a regional shift of seats from north to south,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.

When new congressional districts were last drawn in 2001, all of California’s 53 districts had roughly the same population. But a report from Claremont McKenna’s Rose Institute of State and Local Politics shows that most of the Inland Empire’s congressional districts are overpopulated while the Bay Area’s are underpopulated.

Six Inland Empire districts – including the San Bernardino County districts held by Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino; Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands; and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita – are among the most overpopulated in California.

The district held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and the four districts surrounding it are among the state’s most underpopulated.

In 2011, following the 2010 census, the state’s congressional districts will be redrawn. Unlike the state’s Assembly and Senate districts, which will be redrawn by an independent citizens commission, the congressional districts are set to be redrawn by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

That means, Johnson said, Democrats will try to maintain or possibly increase the edge held by Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation. Out of 53 seats in the state, 34 are held by Democrats and 19 by Republicans.

“There’s a pretty good chance the Democrats will collapse a Democratic seat in the Bay area,” said Doug Johnson, a scholar with Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government. “Then the top priority would be to draw a new Democratic seat somewhere else. That could be in the Inland Empire.”

They’ll do that by taking Democratic voters out of Republican-held districts and creating a new district, likely with a Latino majority.

The federal Voting Rights Act demands that, when redistricting, states try to draw districts that unite ethnic communities. With both San Bernardino County and the entire Inland Empire seeing huge growth among Latinos in the past decade, Pitney said the area is likely to see a new district that includes a Latino majority.

Johnson expects to see a Democratic district created out of pieces of the Inland Empire’s current districts.

“They’ll pull Democrats out of the Mary Bono Mack seat (R-Palm Springs), out of the David Dreier seat (R-San Dimas) and the Lewis seat and create a new seat that’s Democratic,” he said.

That would give Democrats a new seat and preserve their grip on the state’s congressional delegation, but Pitney said Republicans might go along because drawing a new Democratic district – especially if it’s a Latino majority district – would make today’s Republican districts even more solidly Republican.

“Republican incumbents would be happy to see another Democratic district drawn in the area if it makes them more secure,” Pitney said. “It really wouldn’t change the partisan balance, but it would make existing Republican districts more Republican.”

This all assumes the Legislature remains in charge of redistricting. Last year, California voters approved a ballot measure that put the state Legislature’s redistricting process in the hands of a citizens commission. A similar measure, if approved in 2010, would do the same for congressional redistricting.

If that happens, Johnson said the focus likely wouldn’t be on maintaining current party majorities or adjusting existing lines, but drawing completely new districts aimed at uniting communities with similar interests.

New congressional districts might not seem that important, Johnson said, but district boundaries can have a huge impact on how lawmakers look at an area.

Communities that form the bulk of a representative’s district are likely to get more attention – and more federally-funded projects – than a community or section of a community that amounts to only a small fraction of a district, he said.

To read entire story click here.