Redistricting Chaos: Partisan Gamesmanship in California and Arizona
The saga continues regarding the redistricting in Arizona and California. Both states chose to take the mapping of state and federal districts out of the hands of the state legislatures and put it in the hands of "citizen commissions." The good intentions behind this strategy were to eliminate partisan politics, but instead, the states wound up with commissions that did not have the country's or states' best interests at heart.
Republican commissioners in both states are frustrated because no controls were ever specified and implemented in these redistricting endeavors, which led to domination by special interests and partisan politics. "Transparent" is not a word that can be used to define either state's commission.
Michael Ward, an outspoken California Republican Commissioner, wondered why certain transcripts have never been posted online. He contends that there was a cover-up regarding race-gerrymandering at a hearing. Los Angeles County has three African-American congressional districts, which should have been combined, according to the new laws, into one or two "minority-majority" districts. Ward sees this as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. According to him, the districts were maintained to protect the current incumbents, including Maxine Waters. Ward cites someone who publicly testified the following to the commission: "don't do what's right; do the 'right thing' -- which is precisely what the commission did."
There is also the case where Karin MacDonald, the director of the Statewide Database, informed the commissioners that there were multitudinous e-mails from citizens requesting that the Rossmore community be linked with Long Beach. The problem here is that the e-mails actually said the exact opposite. When Ward confronted MacDonald, she apologized and said she had misinterpreted. Also of note is that MacDonald corresponded with all the commissioners via her private work e-mail, not the e-mail designated by the state.
What the redistricting ultimately did was create a situation where the Democrats will achieve a "supermajority" in the state senate, with Republicans set to lose three to four seats in 2012. This will render Republicans powerless to block any and all legislation. However, no problem, since the propositions included a "failsafe": if three of the five Republican commissioners had voted against the maps, the redistricting would have been decided by the courts. Unfortunately, the majority of the Republican commissioners voted for the maps.
Why did the Republicans vote for the biased maps? Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-CA) believes that the Republicans have only themselves to blame:
[They] had absolutely no plan to address the issues. They did not do their homework until the maps were drawn. After I found out about how my district was going to be divided, we motivated the people to action. It was a bipartisan effort to explain why our community should be kept together. Overall, the Republicans did not do this.
Commissioner Jodie Weber (R), who is getting a lot of heat for voting in support of the state maps, echoes this sentiment, since the Republicans had no strategy or argument as to why the districts should not have been shaped in a certain way. She and the other three commissioners (not including Ward) are being blamed, according to Shaun Steele, past chairman of the California Republican Party, because of their close friendship with the Democratic commissioners. It seems that these individuals did not recognize that conservative-leaning districts were being split up for political reasons; in essence, "the Republicans were dumb, clueless, and anti-Republican."
Weber and Ward argue that by the time the Republican Party realized what was happening, it was too late, and they both had to fight on their own for conservative Republican issues. They believe that the Republican Party should have used Donnelly's strategy, since a party could not be considered a recognizable entity. Weber angrily felt that she was left high and dry:
Where the hell was the Republican Party backing me up since December? Where was their testimony? They never came out until May. Now they have the audacity to criticize me because I did not vote no. They were asleep when I was fighting for the conservative ideology. It was the other three commissioners that were buddy-buddy with the Democrats. My proof is that I fought off the criticism to keep Mary Bono Mack's district intact.
It appears from outcome that the Republicans came to the party too late and paid too little attention to what was happening. They never developed a strategy to influence the commission. John Hrabe of CalWatchDog.com explains that currently, their only option is to struggle to collect 504,000 signatures by early October to be able to get a referendum on the ballot protesting the congressional and state senate maps.
The opposite seems to be true in Arizona. The Republican commissioners seem well aware of the Democratic strategy to use "competitiveness" as a synonym for "establishing Democratic districts." Yet Democrats are basing competitiveness only on the 2008/2010 election results, while the Republican commissioners are requesting to go as far back as 2004 to make sure that some hot-button issues did not skew the numbers. Scott Freeman, one of the Arizona Republican commissioners described his intentions:
I want to work from the outside in to try to make the districts compact, well-cut, with equal population, and for cities to not be split up. I am basing this on what the Constitution says, since the first five should be considered, and then find competitive districts.
In addition, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (R) has filed a lawsuit to compel the two Democratic commissioners and the chairperson to testify about any possible open meeting violations. Both Republican commissioners stated that prior to the vote of choosing a mapping consultant, they were privately called by Chairperson Colleen Mathis requesting a 5-0 vote. It appears that by having a unanimous decision, she could don some bipartisanship camouflage. As Arizona Commissioner Richard Stertz believes, "this commission should not be perceived as being partisan. Hopefully, the Chairperson (who is supposed to be an Independent), after siding with the Democrats early on, will want to have a compromise on the drawn map between what the Democrats and Republicans want. By definition compromise will mean everyone will have to give up something."
Unfortunately, a citizens' commission in California and Arizona seems to be only a utopian thought. It appears that as long as humans are involved in any minute way, redistricting is going to be partisan, and the loser will be the individual citizen in each state.