California redistricting panel stumbles over final selections

California’s eight new redistricting commission members and six others they’ve tentatively chosen to fill out the panel appear to be well-educated, civic-minded and committed to the task of fairlyredrawing legislative and congressional districts.

They also represent a geographic cross-section of California, although the selection process may have gone overboard in seeking a broad cultural mixture, with whites, still the state’s largest ethnic group, holding just three seats on the panel.

Indeed, there are fewer whites than Asian-Americans on the commission, even though there are about three times as many of the former as the latter in the state’s population.

That racial imbalance may mean nothing in the long run, if commissioners approach their task objectively. But last week, as the eight initial commissioners tentatively chose the other six from 28 remaining finalists, they missed an opportunity to vastly improve their chances of drawing maps that pass legal muster and popular support.

The final choice was for one of four slots reserved for members who are either decline-to-state independents or minor-party registrants. It came down to a contest between Michelle DiGuilio-Matz of Stockton, a former training planner for the University of the Pacific, and Paul McKaskle of Berkeley, who was the chief adviser to the state Supreme Court on court-ordered redistricting after the 1970 and 1990 censuses.

It was a minor miracle that McKaskle survived the convoluted selection process to make it to the list of 36 finalists. He would bring legal and demographic expertise to the commission, which must navigate a complex array of state and federal regulations as it draws districts.

The commissioners chose DiGuilio-Matz over McKaskle because they believed the San Joaquin Valley needed more representation. Several suggested that they might instead hire McKaskle and his expertise for their staff.

Over the weekend, however, McKaskle fired off a lengthy letter to the commissioners saying they face a “complex task” for which he is uniquely qualified and rejecting the suggestion that he might become a professional adviser.

McKaskle said he would be “very unlikely” to work for the commission because he doesn’t want a full-time job but is willing to take a slot on the commission as a civic duty.

If McKaskle is not chosen, it would leave one appointee, Democrat Maria Blanco, as the only member with hands-on experience. But she’s scarcely a neutral in California redistricting wars.

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

 

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