Report: Redistricting panel did well, can do better

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission generally succeeded in its task of drawing fair new legislative lines, according to a new review of its work – but the state can do even better in the future.

The report, “When the People Draw the Lines,” by Cal State Los Angeles researcher Raphael Sonenshein, was commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. It praises the 14-member panel’s work, but says that in the future, such commissions should start much earlier and have better structural support for their work in order to assure success.

“Given the newness and the difficulty of this process, the redistricting process as designed was surprisingly successful,” Sonenshein, who directs the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, said this morning on a conference call with reporters.

He said there was great public interest in selecting the commissioners, which led to a balanced and capable panel that took more public input “than anyone could’ve possibly imagined” in order to produce maps that survived court challenges and ended up well-regarded by the public.

“Clearly the California commission can be a model for other states interested in reforming their redistricting,” said Chris Carson, the League’s program director for campaign finance and redistricting.

But Sonenshein’s report makes some suggestions for California’s next go-round, or for other states that choose to adopt similar systems, including:

  • Starting at least five months earlier so there’s more time for the commission to do its work
  • Spending more time and money on training the commissioners, and for their information-gathering and deliberations.
  • Collecting demographic and geographic data earlier, before public input begins
  • Including in the commission’s budget funding for a consultant whose main task is to collect and analyze the massive amounts of public input.
  • Reducing commissioner travel costs by conducting some hearings using distance technology, and in some cases, not requiring all commissioners to attend.
  • Commission members Michelle DiGuilio and Stanley Forbes were on the conference call, too.

    “We were all true believers in what we were doing,” Forbes said. “We had no idea that we would get the level of public participation that we did, which was very gratifying.”

    But Forbes agreed the commission should start its work earlier, have more information earlier in the process, and remain vigilant of stepped-up partisan efforts to manipulate the process. “We saw some effort this time, I don’t think it had much success.”

    Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

    • GV Haste

      Correct me if I am wrong, but to my memory, all our local Democratic leaders and office holders fought this redistricting.

      Just like they fought the “top two” open primaries.

      Simply put, they absolutely care more about their own power and their club’s power than they care about you and I and what is best for our future.

      For them, democracy has always been a distant second place to their own personal power grab.

      Again, give me a list of office holders who supported the side of the people. I can’t think of one.

    • Josh Richman

      @1 – I believe you’re right in that no Democratic lawmakers supported Prop. 11; there were, however, some local officials and former lawmakers who endorsed it. A pretty good list can be found here.

    • JohnW

      As I recall, Prop. 11 was not popular with incumbent lawmakers of either party. Am I correct?

      Now, if only other states would follow California’s lead on both redistricting and nonpartisan primaries! These days, Republican lawmakers control redistricting in a majority of states. And most states don’t have the kind of ballot initiative process that California has. So widespread reform is unlikely.

    • GV Haste

      I do see Tom Bates name. He was mayor at that time and unaffected by redistricting.
      A bit of a surprise given his wife’s position.

      Of course, her name is missing.

      Still, where are all those lovers of democracy? You know, the “people’s” leaders we so proudly think we have in local East Bay politics. The “good guys”.

      Bottom line is they care little more for democracy than a bunch of Republicans in Texas or North Carolina.
      Its all about staying in office and keeping their own selfish power….”in the name of the people”.

      But after all, I guess they really know what is best, don’t they?

    • Ted Lawrence

      This is ridiculous. You are quoting people who supported the measure as claiming it worked when it fact, there was not only virtually no turnover, there was admittedly action taken on many politicians to successfully influence the outcome and commission members clearly engaged in helping their own political friends. Just to give a few examples of the ridiculous. In Ventura County for a lot of reasons, some part of the county has to be combined with LA County. Every expert who looks at that concept including staff for the commission recommended that the same areas be combined if such a move happened. Why? So that a particular area could build alliances across county lines and also would have members of Congress and the legislature representing the same basic areas. Instead, they chose in Ventura only to have different area’s cross over for different offices. Why? Because the person in charge of public relations for the board Rob Wilcox and some of the members who were friends of his, didn’t like the Republican Congressman who was representing most of Ventura County because he had opposed Wilcox years earlier when he ran for State Assembly. So they paid him back by splitting his seat and forcing him to retire. To get the votes to shaft Gallegly, it’s an open secret that members also agreed with the more conservative people on the board to shaft David Dreier whom they hated because he was a gay Republican. Staff originally recommended a congressional district that ran from Burbank to Studio City to Hollywood which would have created not only a district that would have covered most of the major studios and had concern for their issues as a priority, but also would have created a district that shared major traffic concerns, because almost everyone who works in that proposed district has to drive through some other part of the district. So it was a natural fit. What was the problem. Congressman Howard Berman would have had most of his old district there and they didn’t want Berman back in because he opposed the commission in the first place and tried to eliminate it after it was created. But on top of all that, leaders in the Democratic party crowed after the election about how they had manipulated the system by having party activists show up claiming to be local grass roots people and sometimes even creating phony names to give cover to their activities and beyond that, lobbied the district away from hearings. None of this is real surprising, because no one really expected a non-partisan process (You can’t take the politics out of politics) but to try and claim the system worked with all of the abuses they had is just ridiculous.

    • Ted Lawrence

      I will add that the real problem with all of this was that these were petty people advancing their own agenda’s while under the previous system, there was at least a connection between the people making the decisions and the voters. No one selected these people. It was simply the luck of the draw and Sonnenschein, a college professor who has supported this “reform” for years is the same type of person. An outsider wanting in, who could never get there on his own.

    • GV Haste

      @#5.. Ted, please learn to use paragraphs with ideas for each paragraph. The type here is small and its too tiring to follow your post line by line.

    • Actually, as a direct result the commission drawing the lines, 6 seats in Congress switched from red to blue in 2012, and Democrats attained 2/3-super-majorities in the legislature.

      Seems Democrats’ worst fears didn’t come true.