Monday, June 27, 2011

Changing Minds On Marriage Equality

So David Frum is no longer opposed to marriage equality.  His piece makes me think two things:

1.) I can't believe New damn York is going to get credit for leading on this issue over California.  We did it first, we just did it badly and it got undid. Sort of. So far. Also, somewhere, Gavin Newsom is making a small voodoo doll of Andrew Cuomo and muttering "leader on marriage equality? HE'S a leader on marriage equality?  2004, much, Cuomo? Please don't steal my White House."  I have this same sort of anger over a possible seriously-treated Michelle Bachmann presidential campaign.  Because if the GOP lands a woman in the White House before the Dems, so help me God . . . .

2.) Frum, noting the slowing trend of dissolving families, writes:

What's new and different in the past 20 years is the collapse of the Hispanic immigrant family. First-generation Latino immigrants maintain traditional families: conservative values, low divorce rates, high fertility and -- despite low incomes -- mothers surprisingly often at home with the children.

But the second-generation Latino family looks very different. In the new country, old norms collapse. Nearly half of all children born to Hispanic mothers are now born out of wedlock.

Whatever is driving this negative trend, it seems more than implausible to connect it to same-sex marriage. How would it even work that a 15-year-old girl in Van Nuys, California, becomes more likely to have a baby because two men in Des Moines, Iowa, can marry?
Which to me indicates something that should be apparent to everyone: we're our own enemy. "We" being dominant American culture.  It's not the gays. It's not the dirty immigrants. It's us.  There's something wrong with our mores or institutions or paradigms or whatever you'd like to call these decaying values - values embodied in public policy - that are to blame. 

When immigrant communities begin to assimilate - as all immigrant communities do, over time - and through that process they lose what we identify as positive attributes we should take note and look at our own problems, not seek to build walls that will only seal in what's wrong.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Five-Cent VRA Review

Whether anyone is getting worked by the CRC's lines, who is getting worked, how hard, and how it's being done is something that might end up in court and if so, will get there under a Voting Rights Act review. So what's this VRA business anyway?  Here's your nickel tour of the issue. (Warning, gross simplification of complex and consistently evolving area of law follows. Please correct my outright inaccuracies in the comments section.)

The United States Constitution, through the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, prohibits redistricting that intentionally dilutes the voting strength of minority groups.

Additionally, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act further prohibits plans that have the effect of diluting minority voting strength, whether or not the effect was intentional.

To establish a Section 2 violation, litigants must show that based on all the circumstances, the electoral process is not equally open to participation by the members of a minority group in that its members have fewer opportunities than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. 

Who Doesn't Love Some Prongs?

As with all great topics of common litigation, the Court has developed a three part test as a threshold for establishing a Section 2 violation, commonly referred to as the Gingles requirements after the case of the same name:

  1. The harmed group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single district.
  2. The minority group is politically cohesive.
  3. The majority votes sufficiently as a block to enable it usually to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate.
If a group can show it meets the above threshold factors, it still must demonstrate that based on a totality of the circumstances, the group possesses less relative opportunity to elect a representative of its choice.  Don't forget this last, umbrella test.  It can be more important and decisive than you might think.

How might a violation look?

Frequently, the first sign of some bad district mojo is a bad-looking district.  Ribbons of connective fiber, the skipping of populations, demonstrating a love of the zen by making a lot of yins and yangs on the map can give groups a reason to lawyer up. Of course, the courts have discussed these non-compact works of abstract art.

The courts' evolution on district shape goes roughly like this:
1.)    To look closely at it on behalf of any one group, you need to show us some numbers first.
2.)    But those numbers won’t necessarily prove anything.
3.)    Also, we no longer care if you were trying to discriminate or not, if you ended up discriminating, you’re toast.
4.)    And if the district looks a little wacky, that might be enough for us to look at it.
5.)    But don’t think drawing a perfectly circular or square district gets you off the constitutional hook.
6.)    And we didn’t mean there could never be a Rorschach-shaped district.

Everyone clear?

The Pipeline

In college, my frequent criticisms of legislative term limits were met by reminders that my female, Mexican counterparts successfully winning office were doing so because term limits cleared out all the old, white dudes who were blocking my cohorts' entry.  And briefly, after the implementation of term limits, the legislature did see a spike in diversity and an increased number of women.

Except, it didn't last. Especially the women part.

Because after all the eligible lower-office holders were elected, they too were limited, and passed right on through both houses leaving them where. (Especially since [Dem] female bids for statewide office frequently seem thwarted by back-room agreements between old, white dudes on who gets what and when.)

We'd exhausted the pipeline - those typical paths by which people usually found their way into office were emptied quickly and we hadn't done any work to fill them up again.

This notion of paying attention to the pipeline and taking at least a 15-or-so year view on potential California legislative leadership seems to run throughout this Bee post on Interest Groups' salivating over the potential to "shake up" the legislative bench.

Seems there was a meeting of the American Association of Political Consultants (the mind reels) recently here in Sacramento and during this meeting, several leading interest group related consultants are already counting on new district lines and the jungle primary to present new opportunities to find leaders:
"I think after this election cycle you're going to see much, much more turnover in the Legislature, and it just gives us a great opportunity to have an impact, to start to try to look for candidates who are going to try to do things differently, to bring a new era in the Legislature and find people that can be partners," said Hegyi, a former legislative aide and Republican Assembly candidate.

Liz Snow, of the California Dental Association, echoed Hegyi's comments, saying interest groups are "tired of insignificant issues moving and being the focus and really tired by the lack of leadership on the part of average members."

"People are sick of playing it safe," she said. "It hasn't really gotten us anywhere."

Snow said those frustrations and the state's changing political landscape will mean that "increasingly being an incumbent doesn't guarantee you anything in terms of support for future elections." She later noted, however, that re-electing freshman Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, will be one of her organization's top priorities in 2012 because of his work on health care issues.
 Of course, one group's insignificant issue is another group's . . . you know the drill.

And incumbency is STILL likely to be a pretty damned good indicator of electoral success after a brief adjustment period with new districts. 

But if I'm running a group bent on electing more of my kind or more people friendly to my kind (women, Mexicans, dentists, podiatrists, whatever), I'm going to spend that period of adjustment seeding lower, local offices to make sure I don't turn around in 6-12 years and find myself with no more friends.

Related: Here, give these gals some money.

Of Dems and Demos

Tony Quinn tosses an ethnicity-charged grenade into the redistricting discussion with a piece titled "How the Redistricting Commission Screwed Latinos."  Now, I like Tony Quinn. I've met him. We share some Rose Institute connections. But lately, I've disagreed with a lot of his thoughts about the California Redistricting Commission (though I agree with his ire over the possibly unfair disqualification of, um, half of my previous employers, I am not taking it quite as personally as he seems to be taking it all).

This latest piece starts with a quote from a NALEO redistricting official that reads, in part, "The lines drawn by the Commission gerrymander Los Angeles Latinos into a district with the millionaires of Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades. These lines would disenfranchise Latinos by denying them a fair voice in the democratic process."  Okay, first, not ALL Los Angeles Latinos are in that district. We're everywhere - we're far beyond the Pico-Union borders, right? 

Next, Quinn rhetorically asks whether the Arizona Legislature has snuck into California to draw the new lines Because AZ hates Latinos, right? I kind of think that's true - but the joke rings false to anyone who follows redistricting since AZ also uses an independent commission? Too fine a nerd point? Can't help it - this is as nerdy a topic as exists, so I think it's fair to call Quinn out on this.

I think what bothers me most in all of this is Quinn's lack of actual demographic references to back up his assertions. I assume he's looking at the data, so why not mention it?  No, that's not true, what bothers me most are lines like this one: "The incumbent in this area is Congresswoman Judy Chu, an Asian American, who took the former Latino seat held by Hilda Solis when she became Labor Secretary in 2009."  Asians are stealing Latino seats!  It's minority vs. minority in an ethnic/racial slugfest that can only be won by . . . nobody at all.

All of this seems to me like a set-up: if we make the Dems and Latinos fight themselves, may we can repack some minority districts and get, like, one more GOP seat? Maybe? How 'bout can we save David Dreier? No? Come-on, give us one....

I'd like to see Dems and Latinos (the Venn diagram of which is going to be, what, like 80% overlapping circles?) have a little closed door meeting and really hash this out and conclude that we're not going to take the bait on this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Know Your Competition

One of the CRC's much-vaunted goals was to create more competitive districts in California.  As this article by David Dayen highlights, it's probable that voters, political scientists, political consultants, and CRC Commissioners might not all view the attributes of a competitive district in the same way.

I have a Facebook friend whose personal priority for the CRC could be described as the Incumbent Reemployment Act of 2011 - knock 'em all out and make the next batch more fearful of wrathful, attentive voters.  This view likely identifies a competitive district as one in which a D or an R has a relatively equal shot at winning.

There's one teensy tiny problem with that view.

California's demographics would make it impossible to draw a majority - or even a substantial number - of so-competitive districts.  The 2001 incumbent protection plan drawn by the legislature preserved the status quo but artificially maintained higher numbers of Republican safe zones than the 2000 census data could support under a more pure, good-government plan.  The CAGOP certainly hasn't trended up in the last ten years and so, accordingly, the 2010 census data isn't going to make it easier to make partisan/mathematically competitive districts.

So is the CRC falling down on the job of presenting us with a seventh-grade civics class's view of competitive and fair districts? No, of course not, did you miss what I just said about about demographics?

So what realistic notion of competition is supported by the data and the CRC's draft maps?  As the Bee notes, it's an increase from "barely any" to "a couple" or from "a couple" to "a few."  This, in a democracy, is progress, kids.

And another thing: this isn't supposed to be a partisan-directed process.  So what can we/do we substituted? I know, I know! Like-minded coalitions of surrogate interests.  And in California, that means minority interest groups - frequently Latino ones.  And leave us not forget the Voting Rights Act - very much a player in this process on an academic level (as groups survey the draft maps for possible Section 2 violations) and on a legal level as four California counties are subject to Section 5 preclearance requirements - those concerns necessarily effect the entire map because when you change one square . . . )

Here's the story:
According to 2010 Census data, Latinos accounted for 90 percent of California’s population growth since 2000. But the draft map released Friday only includes seven Latino "opportunity districts" out of 53 congressional districts—the same number as currently held by Latinos.

“When you look at the combined number of districts statewide that would be effective Latino districts, we could actually end up with fewer than what we have now,” Gold said. She said the map appears to violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
It isn’t only Latinos who are reeling. If the proposed map were adopted, Republicans could find themselves at risk of losing four to eight of their current 19 seats in the House of Representatives, some analysts said. "It's an earthquake with a tsunami,"  Doug Johnson, a redistricting scholar with the Republican-leaning [Ed's note: um, no it's not, stop saying that] Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, told the San Jose Mercury News
First - where was that growth?  Second, and not to sound like I don't care about my people, but, it's not all about you anymore - there are other minority groups that may actually see some gains out of this plan with far less political clout than Latinos currently enjoy.  The article notes that civil rights activists say the maps disadvantages Latinos, citing Loretta Sanchez who would potentially now live in a district with fewer Latinos and more Vietnamese-Americans, who tend to vote Republican. Okay, two things:

  1. That disadvantages that Latino, and
  2. Who cares about her current home address? (See e.g.: Lungren, Dan)
Another quote that I find amusing:

[Voting rights program director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center Eugene] Lee and other said the redistricting commission—which, ironically, is more ethnically diverse than the state as a whole—seems to have been swayed by people who turned up at hearings in April and May pleading with members to keep their towns and cities intact and arguing that ethnicity and race should not be the most important factors in drawing new political maps.
So the problem here is that the commission listened to the people who showed up to rally for the preservation of their communities of interest?  Wasn't that what the initiative was supposed to -- okay, okay, sorry, I know. It's hard to credit the process too much when it, like everything, could likely be orchestrated by connected, monied interests who are nothing if not adept at laying down some fine looking astroturf.  Except - well - MALDEF and others can do that too and, in fact, groups like NALEO pushed long and hard to get Latinos involved in the commission from the start.

Eventually, it will be harder to reconcile the VRA's mechanics and assumptions with California's demographic and electoral realities.  The time may come (and may have already arrived) that short of tremendous Latino losses and really, really clear-cut bloc voting, the argument that similar-on-paper Latinos should be afforded more compactly drawn lines than communities who speak up and demand recognition as such.

(Side note: I've read much about this Pico-Union + Beverly Hills district but much of the objecting comes from the Pico-Union side not the 90210 side.  Similarly, San Pedro has been split a few ways and part of it is in with tony Palos Verdes and the beach cities.  The wealthy bloc - read that white bloc - isn't pissed about the poors dragging them down. is that because they are confident their interests will be served above others? I don't know - just thinking out loud here)

Anyway - let's get back to the point here: pundits, voters, and electeds need to redefine competition if they're going to get any satisfaction out of the CRC's produdct.  The CRC, in turn, needs to be talking about demographics whenever it opens its collective mouth.  Until another massive political realignment, California (and most states, really) isn't going to be able to draw a competitive map.  What California deserves, however, is a map that, by virtue of its respect for well-defined communities of interest, is as competitive as it can be.

Further reading - honorary mention to these articles for addressing the primary voting change:

GIANT TOPIC ASTERISK HERE: As ever, most discussions of what these maps might mean for the future of the "can we get a timely budget" balance in the state legislature don't wonder at the affects of the jungle primary system that will be in full swing in 2012.  GIANT ASTERISK TWO: If MALDEF et al. sue over the VRA side of these equations, in what districts will these jungle primaries take place anyway?

Monday, June 13, 2011

California Democrats Would Be Wise To Resist Early Chicken-Counting

Where chicken-counting = future budget votes.

So, long-time readers who haven't yet cleared this largely inactive site from their RSS feeds may recall that I used to have a thing or two to say about redistricting. Well, it's that time of the year decade again and last Friday saw the California Redistricting Commission's first set of draft maps release and the requisite freaking out/celebrating by various interest groups.

From a visual standpoint, the draft maps appear to fix a lot of what was horribly wrong with the 2000 iteration (SD 25, CD 46, I'm lookin' at you!). Of course, in a state this complex, populous, and, well Californian, there are bound to be some unhappy populations because the boundaries must go somewhere and some communities will be split. (This does not satisfy my parents whose house is perpetually along the dividing line in San Pedro. The division may be threefold in this tiny port town this time - which is lame. But more on that later.)

Some Republicans, however, peeved about the CRC process since it selected Q2 (too many Bruce Cain links! Too liberal! The horror!) and other procedural decisions viewed as partisan-motivated, are now decrying the results: the strong possibility that Dems will achieve the long-sough 2/3 majority in the Assembly and Senate.

As the WSJ's Carl Kelm summarized:
Californians can expect a greater number of competitive races under the plan. An analysis by the Sacramento Bee estimated that the number of true swing districts will increase to two from one in both Congress and the state Senate, and to five from two in the state Assembly. Still, that competitiveness comes largely at the expense of the GOP. Given the party’s continued decline in California — only 31% of voters are registered Republicans — the map necessarily gives a boost to Democrats. It does so, however, in a qualified manner. Some seats that used to be unflinchingly Democratic are now just marginally so.

Still, for the first time in decades Democrats have a mathematical possibility of reaching a two-thirds supermajority in each legislative chamber, which would allow them to raise taxes without Republican consent. That gives the GOP little electoral margin for error. Then again, the prospect of having to face competitive elections might induce a move toward the center in both parties.
It's the demographics, y'all. It's not a Democratic conspiracy - as much as some Dems probably want it to be.

What isn't being said in all of this? That Democrats should be careful what they wish for and should be cautious before celebrating these gains as a harbinger of on-time, easy budget votes. Why am I a Demmie Downer about this? Because I know my partisan-composition history.

We can look to Congress - and we needn't look too far back - for an excellent illustration of the perils of commanding a seemingly unstoppable majority party. (See also: North Dakota's 3/4 GOP majority's difficulties.) It isn't large majorities that prove effective at pushing policy changes - it's more frequently razor thin lines that demand strict party discipline to maximize efficacy.

There's always a spoiler and in California, you'll likely see Democrats assume that role once Republicans become mathematically irrelevant. With a wide majority, each Democrat assumes more power because if they step out of line, that magic 2/3 disappears quickly. An embattled minority (or in California's 2/3 requirement situation, an embattled majority) has far more motivation to stick together - the benefits of that collective power are more visible. If too many members assume, however, that they can strike out on their own due to the comfortingly high number of Democrats, you'll soon see them realize their new power and their new opportunity. It's going to take a mightly powerful, Unruh-esque leader to keep that group in line.

Combine these demographic shirts and border realignments with the as-yet untested effects of the new free-for-all, top 2 primary system and who knows what sort of personalities and agendas walk into the Capitol in 2012 and 2014. One can easily envision splits in the Democratic party forming similar to the traditional GOP/new Tea Party fracture causing all sorts of unlikely coalitions and testing newly loose cannons (and canons).