California redistrict panel faces tough decision at crunch time 

With detailed data from the 2010 census in hand, members of California’s new redistricting commission will soon begin redrawing maps of 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.

It’s a highly complex task with countless pitfalls, and the 14-member commission will be very dependent on the advisers it hires. But finding objective consultants with expertise — especially to draw districts that can satisfy myriad state and federal legal requirements — is no easy chore.

The politics are heavy since the census data indicate that seats will be shifted from Democratic-voting coastal areas to Republican-leaning inland counties.

The commissioners already made one misstep, agreeing initially to hire — without bidding — an Oakland-based firm with apparent ties to Democrats to advise them on map drawing. A storm of protests followed, and the commission backed away from hiring Q2 Data & Research, deciding instead to seek contract bids.

Q2 is one bidder for the half-million-dollar contract and the second, the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, is widely viewed as having a Republican tinge.

The commission may choose one this weekend — or throw out both and start over — and the process is being closely watched because the maps will determine the tenor of the Legislature, the state’s congressional delegation and the Board of Equalization for the next decade.

Q2 bills itself as “a small, nonpartisan, woman-owned consulting firm” in its bid documents. The lead figure in the corporation is Karin Mac Donald. But nowhere does the bid reveal that Mac Donald’s partner in Q2 is, according to records on file with the secretary of state’s office, Bruce Cain, chief adviser to Democrats in the notorious 1981 gerrymander of legislative and congressional districts.

If Republicans are leery of having Mac Donald draw maps, Democrats are equally uneasy with having the Rose Institute do the work.

Rose has been a source of data and advice for Republicans in previous redistricting wars but now bills itself as nonpartisan. In its bid documents, Rose stresses that its staffers have worked on plans for leaders of both parties, including the late Rep. Phil Burton, who masterminded the aforementioned 1981 gerrymander. It also lists its work for community and ethnic minority groups.

So who will get the job? A bipartisan supermajority of the commission, including its independent members, must vote for the final contractor, and that makes the outcome very uncertain.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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