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Scott Thomas Wilk: Redistricting: people prevailing over politics

Right Here, Right Now!

Posted: April 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
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In an effort to make government more accountable, the voters passed two cooperating reform measures: Proposition 11 and Proposition 20 that removed redistricting from the purview of the state Legislature, and established an independent citizens commission to draw the new political boundaries for the coming decade.

Historically, state legislators have been responsible for drawing new district lines. The results were new lines either protecting an incumbent’s current job or, by drawing favorable lines, promoting themselves to higher office.

According to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s website, we join 12 other states that use independent commissions to craft redistricting plans. The new commission is composed of 14 members: five Republicans; five Democrats; and four independents.

On paper, it appears to be the proper balance to remove politics from the equation.

However, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters reported on March 25, “It became evident during meetings of the commission and its subcommittees that most of the independent members have a liberal bent. The Democratic members are also quite liberal, and the Republican members are moderates, or at least not strong conservatives.”

The commission’s initial actions should elicit concern regarding fairness.

The Sacramento Bee reported the law firm hired to provide legal advice on the federal Voting Rights Act may have a Democrat bias.

According to Maplight.com, since 2003, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher employees had given $29,700 to legislative candidates, with nearly 75 percent going to Democrats. At the federal level, the firm and its employees have contributed $1.2 million to House and Senate candidates, with 70 percent supporting Democrats.

The process the commission used to hire the consultant to draw the new district lines is tainted, as well.

Columnist Tony Quinn’s piece in the San Jose Mercury News on April 6 stated in February that some commissioners attempted to give Karin MacDonald, director of the Statewide Database at University of California, Berkeley, a no-bid contract to draw the lines. But the proposal was rejected by the full commission.

Republicans have complained because MacDonald’s firm, Q2 Data and Research, is co-owned by professor Bruce Cain, a former Democratic activist. Cain was responsible for drawing California’s district lines in 1981. It is the only re-apportionment plan to be rejected through a voter referendum, according to Quinn.

So an open-bid process was established, but at the last minute, the commission reduced the bid qualifications because MacDonald didn’t qualify. MacDonald ended up getting the contract because the other bidder, the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, was disqualified.

The first commission road meeting transpired in Redding on April 9. A friend in attendance told me the majority of the 80-plus members of the public were public employee union members. These union members were given talking points to read into the record and professionally drawn legislative maps that would help enhance the Democrats’ legislative majority.

So, clearly a nonpolitical process is political. 

So what can you do to ensure a fair process? Come testify before the commission.

The commission has set the first round of public hearings. For our region, it will be held 2 to 5 p.m. April 30 at the city of San Fernando City Hall — Council Chambers, 117 MacNeil St., San Fernando.

It has been reported the commission will draw assembly lines first, and then “nest” two assembly districts to create a Senate seat. So, having a representative Santa Clarita Valley Assembly seat is paramount to ensuring the community is fairly represented in the state Senate.

The challenge we face is the SCV’s 265,000 people represent about one-half of an Assembly district. One of the criteria is a legislative district should represent a “community of interest.”  So residents need to make an argument as to which communities the SCV should be linked to.

To overcome the political machinations, the people must be engaged in the process by participating. You can send written comments to Citizens Redistricting Commission, 1130 K St., Suite 101, Sacramento, CA 95814, or email to [email protected].

Citizens can publicly testify or submit written comments. To keep informed, please log onto http://www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov/ and sign up for email updates.

Come be part of the solution by attending the April 30 hearing. 

Scott Thomas Wilk is a member of the California Republican Party and elected member to the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

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