11:46 PM PST on Tuesday, March 8, 2011

By JIM MILLER and BEN GOAD
The Press-Enterprise

California’s political landscape lurched to the east Tuesday as new census numbers point to a major increase in representation for Inland Southern California over the next decade.

The region is home to some of the most overpopulated congressional and legislative districts in the state. It stands to gain several additional congressional, Assembly and state Senate seats at the expense of the state’s coastal areas, which grew at a much slower rate.

The changes won’t be known until the Citizens Redistricting Commission redraws the state’s political map this summer to reflect population changes since the 2000 census. Under any scenario, however, the region’s past decade of exceptional growth will be felt from Congress to the state Legislature.

Veteran incumbents of both parties can only watch and wait as the independent panel begins to crunch Tuesday’s data.

“It will continue the trend of having the Inland Empire play a larger role in state politics,” former Inland lawmaker Jim Brulte said.

State districts

In 2001, lawmakers crafted congressional and legislative lines that maximized political parties’ advantages on Election Day. Out of roughly 780 elections since 2002, there have been only eight upsets of that partisan order.

The next maps, however, will be drawn based solely on population, preserving communities of interest and ensuring compliance with voting-rights laws. Commissioners can’t tailor districts for a particular party or candidate.

There are multiple potential legislative remapping scenarios in the Inland Empire.

In the state Senate, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, is likely to lose Riverside. The city hangs off the bottom of Dutton’s San Bernardino-centric seat.

The city could become part of the Senate district of Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, which extends all the way to Blythe. The county’s population growth means there could be room for a whole new Senate seat in the county’s eastern half.

In the state Assembly, the barbell-shaped Upland-to-Yucaipa district of Assemblyman-elect Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, is virtually certain to disappear.

The same goes for the wandering Riverside-to-Palm Desert district of Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert.

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

Democratic voter registration has inched upward in both counties in recent years. As of November, Democrats held a small registration lead in San Bernardino County and trailed Republicans by five percentage points in Riverside County.

Yet the current legislative and congressional delegations include just a handful of Democrats, none of whom represent western Riverside County.

In addition, the huge growth in the region’s Hispanic population — 78 percent in Riverside County alone — could help Democrats’ chances in the historically GOP-leaning area. Political experts view Hispanics as leaning toward Democrats, although their voting rates trail other racial and ethnic groups.

Tuesday’s data shows that Latinos are now 40 percent of the voting-age population in Riverside County, up from 31.1 percent in 2000. In San Bernardino County, Latinos are 44 percent of the voting-age population, up from 34.6 percent in 2000. An unknown percentage is ineligible to vote because they are not citizens.

Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California, was lead author of a report that predicted a rise in Latino registered voters in the Inland area from 24 percent in 2005 to 33 percent in 2015.

“Latinos tend to be more liberal than white residents in the region,” he said. “That could change the politics of the region, but it’s a very slow process.”

Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of political science at UC Riverside and an expert on immigration, said that many of the Latinos newly eligible to vote will be young, and young people are less likely to vote than older people and don’t pay as much attention to state and local races.

“They’re not as connected with local politics,” he said. “It will take awhile for their political impact to be felt.”

Federal seats

The region’s five-member House delegation, which has remained unchanged for the last decade, is likely to be thrown into upheaval.

Some members might have their districts move out from under them. Political consultant Matt Rexroad expects some members to retire and others to follow their districts.

“If Darrell Issa’s new seat doesn’t include any of San Diego County, do you think he’s just going to go home?” said Rexroad. The current district of Issa, R-Vista, also includes part of Riverside County.

“These districts are going to slide to the east, no question about it,” Rexroad added. “But no member of Congress is going to say, ‘I’m not going to move 50 miles to the east to run.’ ”

While it is uncertain how the commission will redraw the map, most scenarios bode well for Democrats.

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