California remapping panel must be wary of political, legal traps

Political cartography may not be rocket science, but redrawing legislative districts is an arcane, highly technical process with countless legal and political pitfalls.

California is shifting the drawing of new legislative and congressional districts from the Legislature — which notoriously uses it to fix elections — to a Citizens Redistricting Commission, and the biggest uncertainty is whether it will fall into one of those traps.

The names of the first eight redistricting commissioners were chosen at random Thursday and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who championed the shift via ballot measures, declared, “The redistricting reforms we achieved on the ballot take the power of drawing district lines away from the politicians and puts it in the hands of the people — where it belongs.”

Well, maybe.

The eight commissioners, survivors from more than 30,000 initial applicants, will choose six more colleagues from the remaining 28 finalists. The full panel must consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four either independents or minor-party registrants.

After receiving data from the 2010 census, the commission will draw 80 new Assembly districts, 40 new state Senate districts, four new Board of Equalization districts and new districts for however many congressional members California has — 53 now but a number that could go up or down or remain unchanged, depending on final ­census results.

That’s when the fun begins. Those in the tiny community of redistricting experts, most of whom are affiliated with one of the two major parties, are already lining up to become paid advisers to the commission. Choosing consultants who can navigate the process without stealthily skewing it toward one party or the other will be one of the commission’s most vital early decisions.

It would help immensely were law professor Paul McKaskle one of those chosen Thursday. McKaskle is a law professor who was hired by the state Supreme Court to draw new districts when it took on the chore due to political stalemates after the 1970 and 1990 censuses.

The redistricting plans must meet many state and federal legal standards, such as population equality, compactness and fairness to ethnic minorities (although every Californian is now a minority) and whatever the commission decrees probably will be challenged in federal or state courts by someone on some grounds.

Thus, unless the maps are meticulously drawn, judges could wind up doing the chore once again.

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

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

SF police shoot burglary suspect in Mission District

Man allegedly attacked officers before being shot in first on-duty SFPD shooting since June 2018

Not even heavy rain can stop the 25th annual SantaCon

Jolly, drunken fun event for Santas is the ‘least wonderful time of the year’ for many locals

Ronen says $100M service expansion is ‘going to fix’ SF’s mental health crisis

Compromise mental health plan has backing of mayor, full Board of Supervisors

Civil liberties lawyer files to take on Pelosi

A San Francisco-based civil liberties lawyer, progressive advocate, DJ and poet is… Continue reading

Supes sound off against bill increasing housing density near transit hubs

Senator Wiener calls resolution opposing SB 50 ‘little more than symbolic political theater’

Most Read