State Senate Districts to be — nesting? mastered? illegal? delayed?


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Nesting canary

This little bird is wondering how you can nest Assembly districts into State Senate districts when they weren't designed to be nestable while still complying with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

[For this post, I'll just start with the disclaimer.  I am hopelessly compromised on this topic, both as a Democratic politico and someone who put in a lot of time to understanding the Redistricting Commission and making a large number of (often honored and sometimes not) suggestions to its efforts.  Read with a skeptical eye as much as you wish; I'm trying to write this as if none of that is true.]

The California Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about the State Senate districts that will be used in the 2012 election — and (depending on how they rule) beyond.  Republicans, unhappy that projections are that Democrats may well win a 2/3 majority of the Senate seats and then either (1) be able to control everything or (2) have to deal with the problem that some of the Democrats in those seats may be sort of DINOs, have sent out for signatures an initiative that would undo the State Senate lines drawn by the Independent Commission.  The Senate lines received a majority of the five Republican votes on the Commission as well as unanimous support among Democratic and Decline-to-State members.  The question is: if the new lines are undone, what then?

Orange County has only two odd-numbered State Senate districts (which are the districts that have primary elections coming up on June 5, 2012, or a few hours less than 146 days from now) in the new maps.  The difficulty in people deciding to run in districts other than those already set out in that short time period is one of the things that the California Supremes will have to keep in mind.

SD-29, under the new maps, stretches from Yorba Linda to La Habra to Cypress and Stanton within OC, from  Walnut to Rowland Heights to Diamond Bar in LA County, and then throws in San Bernardino’s Chino Hills for more Republican goodness.  It  largely (but not entirely) combines new AD-55 (containing Curt Hagman of Chino Hills) with new AD-65 (containing Chris Norby of Fullerton), but removes Buena Park and makes a few other small adjustments.  Bob Huff of Diamond Bar is officially the incumbent, though he has not represented the AD-65 portion.  It has a 5.5% Republican registration advantage, went for McCain for 3.6%.  In 2010 it went for Meg Whitman by 13.3% and Steve Cooley by 24.3% — though this was in areas where, admittedly, neither Jerry Brown nor Kamala Harris campaigned.  The area south of I-5 is probably ripe for Democratic voter registration.

SD-37 is almost (but, frustratingly, not quite) contiguous with AD-68 and AD-74; last I saw, Sen. Mimi Walters was expected to move into the district, part of which she has represented before falling just on the wrong side of the line, and run as the nominal incumbent.  AD-68 stretches from the eastern half of Anaheim through Orange, Tustin, and the Canyons, to the northern part of Irvine and down I-5 to Lake Forest; the nominal incumbent is Don Wagner.  AD-74 stretches from Irvine west to southeast Huntington Beach, then southeast through Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods.  The nominal incumbent is Allan Mansoor of Costa Mesa, who faces challenges from Lynn Daigle of Newport Beach and Keith Carlson from Huntington Beach in a 3-way contest that will probably make the much-commented on Democratic 3-way face-off in AD-69 look like a game of checkers.

With district line changes, Lou Correa could conceivably find himself in an odd-numbered district and have to run for re-election.  Walters may have to un-move, if she is in fact moving at all.  Assembly races could be affected.  And all this for district lines that may themselves found to apply only in 2012, to be changed again in 2014.  It’s a mess.

And into that mess yesterday stepped the California Supreme Court.  A hat tip to Calitics for pointing out a very good write-up by John Myers of Capitol Notes, which I highly recommend interested readers check out.

The Court has to review the impact of an initiative to repeal these planned lines that has received enough votes to force a count of signatures but not enough not to require one.  At issue: in light of the possibility (but not certainty) that the referendum will qualify, do the Independent Citizens Commission’s maps get used in 2012 or not?  Does the court have to intervene?  If so, how?  It’s the question of how the maps would be used that makes the craziness.  (How crazy?  MPI maps reposted their original map yesterday, putting La Habra, Brea, and Yorba Linda in with Riverside communities stretching past I-215.)

The plaintiff (also known as the referendum proponent) has suggested three alternatives: the existing 2001 districts with “tweaks,” as described by attorney Chuck Bell, Senate maps drawn to “nest” two Assembly districts per Senate district, or a map offered by plaintiff’s expert (and former GOP redistricting staffer) Tony Quinn.

The defendants argued that none of those options are acceptable, most notably on the grounds that the scenarios may create districts that are constitutionally illegal.

Let’s savor those for a moment: the Republican plaintiff’s are asking the court to “tweak” existing districts (in ways that will almost surely not satisfy equal protection or VRA requirements), to “nest” districts in a way that we already know won’t do so (it’s been tried) — or to just let their Republican redistricting staffer draw the lines himself.  That last one, especially takes chutzpah.  The more obvious solution: use the Commission’s lines, call them “interim,” and revisit the permanent decision at greater leisure.  (One reason for the Supreme Court to take its time is that this decision will be a huge constitutional case, setting broad and important precedents in areas unrelated to the 2012 elections.)

The Court is expected to rule by the end of the month — to give, I suppose, candidates at least a fighting chance to decide where they will run and put together a campaign.  As I write, no Democrats have yet filed in either Orange County State Senate race, but this may be in part because it’s not clear what the lines will be.  And apart from staving off a Democratic Senate super-majority, that may have been part of the intent of the lawsuit!


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.