When California voters passed Proposals 11 and 20 to create a statewide independent redistribution commission a decade ago, there were concerns that such a body would dilute the voting power of the state’s Asian, Latin American, and African American communities. The other Commissioners and I felt the weight of these concerns every day and took to heart our responsibility to serve the diverse populations of our state. This needs to be taken into account again as the state prepares for district realignment.
The black community in Los Angeles, in particular, appeared to be in danger of losing its representation a decade ago. A commissioner was quoted in the LA Times as saying, “It is very difficult for people to accept changing demographics,” which many read that the decline in LA’s black population is leading to the elimination of their representation in Congress would and the state legislature.
Others came to the Redistribution Commission and suggested consolidating the congressional districts held by black members in Los Angeles into one large black majority seat, which would have resulted in black representation being reduced to numbers that have not been seen in LA since the 1960s were seen.
But we in the commission weren’t ready for the state to lose black districts on our watch. While we were learning that demographics had indeed evolved, many of these so-called historically black communities still had a vibrant black presence and voice. So we’ve listened carefully and worked diligently in LA and other parts of the state to protect black representation in Congress and the legislature.
We have also increased the number of majority minority districts in Latino areas, including the long-earned Latino seat in the San Fernando Valley, by wiping out the gerrymanders that Latinos had no chance in that area. In the San Gabriel Valley, we created the first minority majority legislative district in a heavily Asian area on the American mainland.
As we step into this current redistribution cycle, we hear some of the same gossip as we did in 2011 – including an argument about occupying a single black congressional seat. This has been leaked again through news that MP Karen Bass, who represents one of those seats, will run for Los Angeles mayor’s office.
It is up to me to strike back once more in the face of these familiar threats, this time as a former commissioner and compatriot from California. The commission is now taking public comments and will have draft maps by mid-November. The final maps will be made by December 27th.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I personally saw the black community grow, but also move to other parts of the city and region. This is a fact and it has reduced the number of African Americans in previously densely populated communities like Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw Corridor, West Athens, Watts, Compton, Leimert Park, Florence-Graham and West Adams, as well as in Compton, Inglewood, Gardena, Hawthorne , Carson and other cities in southeast Los Angeles County. But while the census numbers have certainly declined, strong black communities still live, work and play here and deserve to exercise their full political voice.
The commission should oppose any effort to reduce the political and representative power of the black community in Los Angeles County, and this begins with a commitment to keep two congressional seats in which black voters have enough to influence the results of the election . Does this mean that only a black member can be elected? No. It means that whoever deserves the votes of these communities must take care of the needs of the region’s black population alongside those of their neighbors.
Black communities can still have a strong voice and vote for candidates of their choosing, even if the population of the citizens’ voting age is more modest today. There has long been evidence of crossover voting with white and Latinx voters supporting black candidates across Los Angeles. Any attempt to merge the two black districts into one would in fact violate the voting rights law. Instead of packing black communities into one district, the commission should instead seek a strong black political voice in two districts. Based on a close review of election dates, these two districts would be best suited with 28 to 35% black citizens of voting age.
This two-district approach can also enable the Latino population to have effective districts in other parts of the LA basin – something that should be another primary goal of the commission. In addition, the current commission has the opportunity to receive every single seat of the Latino majority minority that our commission created in 2011. The Asian community that grew in the San Gabriel Valley currently has two districts that have been effective in building political power for the various Asian communities in the region – one in Congress, the other in the State Assembly.
We know that LA County has had a population loss compared to the rest of the state. And if you listen to the state district officers, you can tell that they fear it will have a negative impact on minority communities. But as a former Commissioner, I know firsthand that redistribution in this region has long been focused on maintaining districts that provide effective representation for minority communities and ensure that all of our communities win – together.
And that starts with keeping the two black congressional districts.
Connie Malloy was Chair of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission from 2010 to 2020 and is Executive Director of the Panta Rhea Foundation.