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?

1 comment:

dcuccia said...

Don't forget:

3) Who cares about *that* Latino's current political party (See e.g. Sanchez, Loretta)

Kudos again! So much to learn here...had many a near-LMGTFY moment.