“Odd or Even?” That’s the question California’s 40 state senators are asking these days as the Citizens Redistricting Commission gets closer to assigning numbers to its newly drafted districts.
The significance of the odd or even numbering is that millions of Californians could find themselves in a rare — but not unheard of — situation in which they go two years without a voting senator in the state capitol. For those who decry such a thing as a violation of laws ensuring no taxation without representation and other good-government protections, the laws of unintended consequences should never be overlooked.
The redistricting commission was enacted through the passage of Proposition 11 in 2008 with the intent of removing the perceived conflicts of interest when legislators draw their own districts. In essence, the old system had legislators choosing their own voters instead of voters choosing their lawmakers.
Part of Prop. 11 requires that the 14 redistricting commissioners be unaware of the incumbent legislators’ home addresses. The thought was that if commissioners didn’t know where legislators lived, they could draw more objective lines based on natural boundaries, communities of interest and, most important, minority voting trends as required by federal laws.
In previous once-every-decade redistricting exercises, incumbents were, with few exceptions, most always protected from being redrawn out of their district or reassigned an odd or even numbered district at odds with their current district.
Not this time.
Senate terms are four years, with half of the seats up for election every two years. Odd numbered districts will be on the 2012 ballot, while even numbered districts will be on the 2014 ballot.
For voters in soon-to-be-even numbered districts whose senators opt to run in odd-numbered districts in 2012 (due to more favorable voting demographics), they will be represented by a custodian, most likely a neighboring state senator, selected by the Senate Rules Committee.
But those voters in the custodians’ districts will have to wait until 2014 to select their own state senators — and get the representation they deserve. (Since all Assembly members serve two year terms, each Assembly district will be on the 2012 ballot regardless of its odd or even status, thus ensuring that Californians will at least have one full-time legislator representing them.)
At this point, nobody knows how Senate seats will be numbered and which districts will be affected. Hence, voters should hope that they will be placed in “accelerated” districts rather than “deferred” districts. Accelerated districts are those that get reassigned to odd from even, and therefore get to elect a senator in 2012 instead of waiting until 2014.
If you are unfortunate enough to be redistricted to an even-numbered senator’s district from an odd-numbered one, you’ll have to wait until 2014 to get your “deferred” representation in Sacramento. Odd to even senators’ terms will expire in 2012, but their constituents won’t have representation until 2014.
For example, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Los Angeles, was elected to the 23rd Senate District, a safe Democratic seat representing West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, through 2012. However, if Pavley is assigned a new even-numbered district, she won’t be able to run again until 2014, and many of her current constituents will be left in the hands of a custodian for two years under the new boundaries.
On the other hand, take Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, in the 20th Senate District. If his district becomes the 21st, he remains in office until 2014, as he was re-elected in 2010 to a four-year term. But in 2012, 21st District voters who used to be in the 20th District (and therefore are in an “overlap zone”) will elect a new senator and therefore will be represented by two senators (Padilla from their previous 20th District and one from their new 21st District) through 2014.
Now the fun part. Some senators, who own property in an adjacent district, might decide to relocate and run in the newly odd-numbered districts. We might also see cases where deferred senators resign before the new numbered districts take effect and run in neighboring odd-numbered districts to protect themselves against other potential rivals before they secure electoral platforms (and fundraising opportunities) as incumbent Assembly members.
How many districts will be affected by being deferred? We won’t know for sure until later this summer when the commission assigns numbers for the new districts, but we can assume it will be more than ever before. Even if it’s only a handful of districts, millions of Californians will feel the impacts.
Regardless, the combination of redistricting and the new “top-two” primary system approved by voters in 2010 will certainly shake up the system more dramatically than Proposition 140 did with term limits in 1990.
Perhaps the irony of all this is that voters passed Prop. 11 thinking that they’d get a better quality of representation in the state capitol. But at least until 2014, some of us won’t have any representation at all.
Brendan Huffman is a public policy consultant with Huffman Public Affairs and Bradley Hertz is an election attorney with the Sutton Law Firm.
— Brendan Huffman is a public policy consultant with Huffman Public Affairs. Brad Hertz is an election attorney with the Sutton Law Firm. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News and is republished with permission from the authors.