Selective Memory

Tony Quinn has a long history in redistricting.  However his latest post on the drop in Latino representation in the Senate practices some selective memory. 

One of his premises is that the election of Bob Hertzberg was the result of “an obvious agenda to harm controversial Sen. Tony Strickland”.  To the contrary the most obvious agenda that played out in the region was one to aid the Republican Senator.  A group known as the “Coalition of Suburban Communities for Fair Representation” submitted its own Senate lines for the region along with hundreds of letters in support.  These lines were friendly to Strickland. 

Who was the leader of this group?  None-other-than Republican Assemblymember Scott Wilk, a Strickland ally.  Even more brazen, Wilk’s group also submitted lines for the state Assembly, including the district where Wilk was already lining up support.  If anything the Commission largely resisted Republican efforts to suck it into an ongoing GOP civil war in the region that continued to play out this November when Strickland lost his Congressional bid to fellow-Republican Steve Knight. 

Much of the drop in the Latino share of the population in Hertzberg’s SD-18 district was driven by the old district being underpopulated by 50,000 people and needing to expand into less-Latino communities.  Even the plan submitted by a coalition of Latino, Asian and African-American interest groups saw the Latino share of the district fall relative to the old boundaries.

Admittedly, the plan adopted by the Commission saw an even bigger drop in the Latino share of the population.  And even some Commissioners expressed reservations before voting for the plan.  But the boundaries adopted were driven by tradeoffs with other factors like communities of interest and questions about the legally permissible degree to which race could be used as a factor in redistricting, not any grand political conspiracy by Commissioners to harm either Strickland or Latino voting power. 

Not that this is the first case of people telling half the story of California’s first redistricting Commission.  One of Quinn’s other pet-peeves in the Senate plan is the way the Commission divided Sacramento County.  These lines were driven in part by the Commission’s decision to keep San Joaquin whole in the Senate plan.  ProPublica later published a story on efforts by a group called “OneSanJoaquin” to try and hold the County largely whole in the Congressional plan to aid Congressman McNerney.  That group was aided by former Democratic strategist turned redistricting expert Paul Mitchell.

Left out in the accounts by Quinn and ProPublica is that the first push to keep San Joaquin whole were plans submitted months earlier by a group called “San Joaquin County Citizens for Constitutional Redistricting.”  And who were they?  Those lines were drawn by former Republican staffer turned line-drawer Doug Johnson.  Unsurprisingly his maps also worked to keep San Joaquin whole in a manner that was far friendlier to Republican interests. 

Republican efforts to manipulate the redistricting commission by people like Quinn, Wilk, and Johnson largely went unnoticed because they were so unsuccessful and often backfired. 

However circumstance had more to do with the drop in Latino representation in the Senate than any line on a map.  Even under the Commission plan it seems likely had anyone other than Hertzberg been the candidate, a Latino would have been elected in SD-18.  At a minimum Hertzberg was unique in being able to cultivate the support of the Latino Congressman, Senator and Assemblymember from the area.  It also seems likely that had the Commission not drawn a new Latino Congressional district in the area and had term limits reform not passed, a credible Latino would have filled for the Senate contest.  Quinn lauded the Commission for the former.  The lines were already in place before the latter.

Had Gloria Negrete McCloud not defeated Joe Baca in 2012, she would not have vacated her Senate seat to Norma Torres.  And had McCloud not retired, Norma Torres would have run for re-election to the Senate and there would never have been an opportunity for a Connie Leyva to win SD-20, another traditional Latino seat (Leyva is married to a Latino but is not Latina herself).

Had Michael Rubio not resigned he almost surely would have been re-elected in 2014 in SD-14.  Even if he had stayed in office and simply not run for a second term, Democrats would have had a much better chance defeating Andy Vidak as a non-incumbent.  Indeed, if it had simply rained last winter Vidak would have been a much weaker candidate.  Not to mention the Commission had no way of anticipating turnout, especially among Latinos, being as anemic as it was this year. 

Anemic turnout was clearly a contributing factor to Bonnie Garcia’s loss in SD-28 and in any other year she likely would have been victorious.  Some simple turns of fate and after the first full complement of State Senate races the number of Latinos in the Senate could be plus one rather than minus three.


P.S.- Because I believe in full disclosure, I worked for Hertzberg during the 2001 redistricting, was a liaison for the Legislature during the 2011 redistricting, and worked on several Senate campaigns this cycle, including in SD 14, 20 and 34.