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Tim Myers: No date to the prom: Redistricting the SCV

Myers’ Musings

Posted: May 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.

When my younger sister entered Davis County High School, she set a goal to attend junior and senior prom all four years. For her freshman and sophomore years, this required some elaborate tactics, since attendance required an invitation from a junior or senior boy — there was a chronic short supply in our rural and isolated burg.

Not to worry; my sister would begin a “steady” relationship with some upperclass boy after the turn of the year, nurturing the relationship for the four-and-one-half months necessary to get to prom.

Unfortunately, the two victims in question got somewhat attached to my sister, without the knowledge that the relationship would start to unravel after formal pictures at the prom (no reason to spoil the fun before one got a picture with an actual smile), when she would reveal that she would really prefer a relationship based on “friendship.”

Santa Clarita City Councilmember Laurie Ender recently used the prom analogy in describing the strange position of the Santa Clarita Valley, an area of almost 300,000 people, and what most probably will occur in the new commission redistricting process that will set Assembly and state Senate districts for the next 10 years, starting with the 2012 election.

Why the (late) focus on redistricting? Political wags joke that while elections allow voters who bother to participate to choose their representatives, the redistricting process allows representatives to choose their voters, hoping to ensconce themselves in “safe” districts where they will face no primary challengers and easily win re-election.

How does an incumbent define a “safe” district? First, the district should contain a majority of registered voters aligned with his or her particular party.

This usually does not cause a problem because the self-sorting that occurred over the past three decades several social scientists identified recently in various scholarly literature.

Second, and more importantly, the incumbent wants to make sure no primary opponent emerges. The best way to assure this? Make certain that most or all of the candidate’s “home base” lies fully within the new district.

And this looks like where the Santa Clarita Valley got outmaneuvered by the Antelope Valley and Ventura County communities.

These constituencies came before the redistricting commission with their partners in tow, nurturing their relationships for some period of time; the Antelope Valley wishing to pair with other high-desert communities and Ventura County seeking to keep self-contained districts, favored by precedent, since districts ideally would not cross existing political boundaries.

This leaves the Santa Clarita Valley acting like the proverbial fifth wheel, with a high likelihood that portions will be hived off to ride in the back seat on the way to the prom with areas of the San Fernando Valley, Ventura County, the Antelope Valley and perhaps even Kern County.

Could the SCV avoid this fate? Probably not. A structural problem exists.

Even though the SCV contains approximately 250,000 people, this amounts to only about one-half the amount represented by an Assembly member.

California, the largest state by population, sports the 35th largest state legislature, with Assembly members representing triple the number of their counterparts in the equally urban states of New York and Illinois.

Small wonder the folks in these behemoth districts cannot identify their Assembly representative or state senator.

What does this mean for the SCV?

Well, immediately the termed-out Assemblyman Cameron Smyth possesses no obvious office to run for, and no district to run in.

None of the possible local mooted successors to his seat (some quite laughable, even before this catastrophe) stand zero chance of finishing in the top two in the new open primary to advance to the general election in one of the three districts to which the SCV will find itself attached.

Additionally, the open primary system could well see people in the Newhall area choosing between two Democrats from the San Fernando Valley in a general election, while folks in Canyon Country decide between two Republicans from the
Antelope Valley and folks on the west side evaluate two Republicans from Ventura County.

But best of all — or worst, depending upon one’s point of view — that great moan that one hears in Northbridge, and Northbridge Pointe is the cry of anguish from Councilwoman Laurie Ender, as she sees her ambitions of becoming a somewhat-better-educated Sarah Palin fall into the dust of the 2010 redistricting process.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. “Myers’ Musings” runs Sundays in The Signal.


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