Activists are calling for the creation of a congressional district that connects LGBTQ populations in Long Beach and the northern Orange County’s coastline. Civil rights groups say a plan to divide a district in the Los Angeles area – the nation’s strongest Latino – is against the voting rights law. Asian Americans warn that a proposal to tear the San Gabriel Valley to pieces would dilute their voices at a time of terrifying violence against their community.
These are just some of the concerns an independent state commission weighs as it seeks to complete the decade-long re-congressional district by Christmas.
“Our goal is fair cards, and fair cards means that we have to follow the process that lies ahead of us, that we do this in a transparent way and that the public is meaningfully involved and has the opportunity to publicly influence the cards and the line drawing”, said Pedro Toledo, a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and an independent Petaluma voter. “And that makes it a little messy.”
“Not everyone gets happy,” he said.
The commission, created by the electorate to end the partisan gerrymandering and also tasked with filling seats in the legislature, is in the midst of public marathon sessions, taking hours of public testimony from elected officials, interest groups and residents. Their job is made more difficult by the fact that California is losing a seat for the first time in its history.
Hundreds of phone calls for six sessions this week and most recently were booked within minutes, leading the commission to cut the time limit of each speaker to free up more than 200 additional seats. They have already received around 18,000 letters, emails and other forms of communication.
The first task of the 14-person commission is to create 52 congress districts, each with around 761,000 inhabitants. Your next priority is complying with the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal law that outlaws racial discrimination in voting.
Minority groups argue that the commission’s draft maps, approved earlier this month, fail because they disenfranchised marginalized communities.
The maps contain 12 districts with more than 50% residents who are Latino citizens of the voting age, and one with just under 50%.
Civil rights activists argue there should be more, especially in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.
Lori Pesante, director of civic engagement and government relations at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, testified Wednesday that the Central Valley counties that really give Latinos the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice should have higher baseline values - 65% population, 55 % Voting age population and 50% registered voters.
“Your current map designs at all levels do not meet these effectiveness metrics and we fear they will create districts that will completely disenfranchise our Latino populations and other colored communities for the next 10 years,” she said.
The Commission’s proposal to liquidate the Los Angeles area seat of MP Lucille Roybal-Allard, the nation’s Latino, aroused particular anger. The Democratic district has an 87% Latino population and an 81% Latino electoral population, according to the non-partisan California Target Book, which hinders congressional elections.
“If you dissolve a Latino-majority district like Roybal-Allard’s, you are soliciting a lawsuit,” said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Representatives of the Asian-American and Pacific island population are also dissatisfied and point to the lack of a majority AAPI district near San Jose, where one was founded 10 years ago, and to the division of the San Gabriel Valley.
“The area is precisely related to the Asian-American people and the interests and concerns about common cultural institutions that have been built over the years, as well as common political concerns including growing hatred of Asia, the need for culturally sensitive services … it connects really. “the whole of the San Gabriel Valley put together,” said Cha Vang, deputy director of the AAPIs For Civic Empowerment Education Fund. “This is a community of interests whose entirety is very important.”
The Commission is also facing a well-organized effort to create congressional districts with a sizeable gay and lesbian population.
“California has been a leader in using redistribution to empower LGBTQ communities since the 1970s,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesman for Equality California.
He referred to lobbying that led to the historic election of Harvey Milk to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as well as the creation of a city council neighborhood in San Diego that has been the launch pad for LGBTQ politicians, including Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria .
Now Equality California and others are working on the country’s most aggressive efforts to create a voice for LGBTQ communities in Congress.
Garrett-Godfather said they were happy with the San Francisco and West Hollywood counties in the map designs but were concerned about the fragmentation of LGBTQ communities in San Diego, Sacramento, the Coachella Valley, and especially Long Beach and nearby Orange County beach towns.
“We’re not just focusing on fair and equitable cards for the LGBTQ community at the expense of others,” said Garrett-Godfather, noting that the majority of California’s LGBTQ community are colored people. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but that’s the hard work the Commission is committed to.”
Geography is also controversial. Napa Counties, Fullerton, and Sacramento residents are among those outraged at the division of their neighborhoods into separate congressional districts.
“It’s an arbitrary line in the middle,” said Democratic advisor Roger Salazar of the draft map proposal for the state capital. “Most of the time you see these lines drawn to follow a geographic formation or city limits. He didn’t do either. “
Salazar, an adviser to MP Doris Matsui, whose district is Sacramento, put the split on the overburdening of the commission.
“Look, it was done in a bit of a rush towards the end of the day and the commission has confirmed that it would make some adjustments,” he said.
After the creation of equal-sized districts that did not disenfranchise minorities, the task of the commission was to prioritize the creation of contiguous districts, trying to respect the municipal boundaries and drawing geographically compact districts.
Politics – be it protecting incumbents or creating districts that favor a party – shouldn’t be a factor if the cards are finalized by December 27th. However, an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California released Tuesday shows that the card drafts will attract 20 members of Congress to a district with a different incumbent. Congressmen do not have to live in their district, but voters often prefer to live.
There is also widespread speculation that some public feedback is motivated by partisan goals, such as helping elected officials at risk.
Other geographic debates seem to be fueled by a more personal rivalry, such as the dissatisfaction of the San Fernando Valley residents with lump-sum residents of Santa Monica.
“You don’t want to be with us. We don’t really want to be with them, ”Stuart Waldman, president of Valley Industry Commerce Assn., Told commissioners on Wednesday before suggesting ways to separate the city from a district that includes parts of the Valley.