Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 5:25 am | Fair 42º


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Draft Maps Show Political Redistricting Could Create More Competitive Districts

Capps' ribbon of a congressional district may be expanded to include most of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo counties

The new California Citizens Redistricting Commission has released its first draft of updated political maps for the Assembly, state Senate, congressional and Board of Equalization districts. The arduous process is undertaken once every decade, but for the first time the boundaries are being drawn by nonlegislators.

While the drafts appear to mostly tweak around the edges for Santa Barbara County districts, the 23rd Congressional District — a seat held since 1997 by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara — will likely become far more compact than the narrow ribbon that currently hugs the coastline from Ventura County and through Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Under the proposed scenario, the district would consist of most of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and part of northwestern Ventura County.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, says the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is an important improvement for equitable representation. 'It eliminates a conflict of interest in which people in power can draw their own lines and pick their own voters,' he says.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, says the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is an important improvement for equitable representation. “It eliminates a conflict of interest in which people in power can draw their own lines and pick their own voters,” he says.

Voters authorized the 14-member independent commission in 2008 with passage of the Voters First Act. Proponents of the measure wanted to take the power to redraw political districts away from the Legislature, which they accused of protecting incumbents in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The act authorizes a panel of commissioners representing geographic, demographic, political and other criteria to set the boundaries, a process that is required by the Constitution every 10 years, after the U.S. census has been completed.

The maps released Friday are the “first, best effort” at incorporating public input and following state criteria for the districts, commissioners said. More comments will be considered before the commission presents the final draft to the Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 15.

Click here to view the current and proposed district maps.

In looking at the current and draft maps, the 35th Assembly District, represented by freshman Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, shows no change in the draft map, and Lompoc is the only city split between two districts, the 35th and the 33rd, staff members said during the commission’s Friday meeting. The 35th district includes Santa Ynez Valley cities, Goleta, Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, Ventura and Oxnard.

In Ventura County, the 37th district’s boundary was moved slightly to avoid splitting El Rio, an unincorporated area east of Ventura. The 37th district is represented by freshman Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo.

The 19th Senate District, represented since 2009 by Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, includes Santa Barbara County and bits of Ventura and northern Los Angeles counties and also appears unchanged so far in the process.

The 23rd Congressional District is the oddest-shaped district by far: a long, narrow strip that weaves west from Oxnard and Ventura and up the coastline of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties to the Monterey County line. The commission presented its first draft and said it would not include Ojai Valley and splits Ventura into two districts, but ventures farther inland.

More important, the new map consolidates Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, parts of which are currently represented by Reps. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

Capps, who supported Proposition 27, the unsuccessful 2010 ballot initiative that would have eliminated the new redistricting commission and returned the power to the Legislature, said Friday that she looks forward to running for re-election in 2012, regardless of where the boundaries fall.

Currently, the 35th Assembly and 23rd congressional districts are overwhelmingly Democratic, with 47.21 percent and 46.56 percent of registered voters, respectively.

The 19th state Senate district is evenly split between the two major parties, with 37.91 percent for Republicans and 37.82 percent for Democrats. Every district has a smattering of third-party voters and about 20 percent who decline to state a political party affiliation, according to Secretary of State records.

Despite the intrigue of the new political lines, it’s more important to look toward broader trends than district-by-district specifics, said Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and chairman of California Fair Political Practices Commission.

“This is opening day; we’ve got a long way to go before we get to the World Series,” Schnur told Noozhawk on Friday. “The precise lines can change very dramatically between now and when the process is complete.”

There’s an increased emphasis on minority community representation, a shift eastward in population and district lines from urban centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and more competitive districts, he said. It’s the last point that prompted the support for an independent redistricting commission.

“The advantage of this commission is that it eliminates a conflict of interest in which people in power can draw their own lines and pick their own voters,” Schnur said. “The process isn’t perfect, but it eliminates the initial conflict of interest and, as a result, there will be more competitive elections going forward.”

Among the commission’s rules for line-drawing are the goals to keep cities, counties or areas with common interests intact; not favor any political party or candidate; and have as much population equity and be as geographically compact as possible.

Schnur said the courts have ruled that minority communities are the most important thing for any redistricting process to consider.

“Even before this commission began to consider geographic compactness, it was required by law to provide as many opportunities as possible for various minority communities to elect representatives if they so choose,” he said.

Testimony can be submitted to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission by email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); by mail to the Citizens Redistricting Commission, 901 P St., Suite 154-A, Sacramento 95814; or by fax to 916.651.5711. The commission will hold public input hearings throughout June on the draft maps.

Click here to learn more about redistricting in all states.

Click here to play the educational Redistricting Game, developed by USC game design expert Christopher Swain.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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