The California Redistricting Commission’s work has been corrupted by a combination of partisanship and incompetence – and the voters and ethnic minority groups will pay the price
In 2011 California began using what voters were told would be an “independent” process to redraw district lines for Congress, State Senate and State Assembly. By appointing citizen commissioners who would draw lines in an open setting based on public testimony from communities across the state, the public was told the process could benefit the voters, not the politicians.
Unfortunately, the process failed in 2011 – and is about to again.
A December 21, 2011 piece by ProPublica entitled “How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission” detailed a sophisticated strategy used by left-wing politicians and political groups to manipulate the 2011 redistricting process to their benefit.
“To get the districts they wanted, Democrats organized groups that said they represented communities, but really represented the party,” the piece recounted. You can read the piece in full for yourself here (https://www.propublica.org/article/how-democrats-fooled-californias-redistricting-commissionby), but you won’t need to because the 2021 process has been corrupted even worse – and here’s how.
As it races to meet a December 27, 2021 deadline, the current California Redistricting Commission is poised to approve redistricting maps that will eliminate more than a dozen Republican Congressional, State Senate and Assembly seats – all to benefit Democrat politicians at the expense of important communities of interest and ethnic minority groups.
“When evaluating the Commission’s work product, we should evaluate the maps based on three simple criteria: 1) equal population, 2) maintaining long-standing Communities of Interest within the same district, and 3) maximizing the voice of ethnic minorities under the Voting Rights Act,” says Carl DeMaio, Chairman of Reform California, a group that has been closely monitoring the redistricting process. Some will shift the order of the criteria, but there’s no reason you can’t do all three, DeMaio says.
“Partisanship should never be a factor, but if maps don’t make sense from those three criteria but clearly shifts districts on a partisan basis, then you have a failed redistricting process,” DeMaio notes.
“When you listen to the actual Commission hearings you see two clear problems,” notes DeMaio.
“First, you have highly partisan Democrat Commissioners that are manipulating the process with the help of staff that are blatantly misrepresenting datasets in hearings,” explains DeMaio. “Second, some of the other Commissioners are just either too ignorant or disinterested to realize that the process has been manipulated,” say DeMaio.
DeMaio says the Commission’s own hearing record and public testimony files contain all the evidence needed to illustrate the problems. DeMaio says testimony submitted from legitimate community groups has been disregarded by Commissioners in favor of “pop-up” partisan groups that are not speaking on behalf of the communities they claim to represent.
DeMaio says how the lines were drawn in San Diego county is a perfect example of how the process has been corrupted.
When initial visualizations came out, thousands of San Diego citizens were upset by the proposals and submitted feedback using the Commission’s public input function on its website. In fact a review of the public comment records for the Commission as of December 5, 2021 showed that San Diegans submitted public comments at a rate 5.3 times more often than the state as a whole.
Assuming the Commission was just struggling to understand San Diego, a coalition of groups from around San Diego county even submitted a formal set of maps for the Commission to review known as the “San Diego Communities of Interest Redistricting Map Proposal.” Over two thousand public input submissions on the Commission website directly supported the coalition’s recommendations – dwarfing input received on similar proposals made statewide.
“You can see the Commission’s hearing records for yourself and realize that San Diego has spoken loudly and consistently – but the Commissioners completed disregarded that testimony,” DeMaio says. “Instead a handful of Commissioners and staff have cherry-picked random testimony from phony groups and fringe individuals that is completely unrepresentative of the feedback contained in the hearing record,” DeMaio says.
DeMaio points to manipulation by Democrat Commissioners Patricia Sinay, Sara Sadhwani, and Trena Turner and says traditional communities of interest in San Diego – including ethnic minorities – have paid the price for their political games.
Take what happened to East County community of Santee, Lakeside, El Cajon, Alpine, and Jamul. The Democrats on the panel have been on a mission to break apart this Community of Interest from the get-go.
Sinay was the first to propose El Cajon be split in half as a city – falsely claiming that “rich” people live “in the hills” of El Cajon and have nothing in common with the “poor working residents” in other parts of the city. Not only does the Census data not support this representation, neither do the final Commission maps as the Commissioners did not use this criteria in splitting the city up. So much for being data-driven even by your own erroneous representations.
Next up Sadhwani falsely stated El Cajon community members have asked to be split. In fact, the El Cajon City Council (you know, the ones who actually represent the voters) unanimously voted to oppose being split off from East County and have repeatedly submitted that testimony to the Commission – along with hundreds of organizations and individuals.
In an astonishing and insulting move, Turner cited random and outlying testimony that suggested Santee was “racist” and that El Cajon did not want to associate with “racist” Santee.
Game. Set. Match.
The move to split El Cajon up also decimated the voice of an important ethnic minority: the Chaldean Community. In fact, El Cajon and Jamul have the highest concentration of these Christian Iraqis in the country – but now their voices are scattered into three separate Assembly Districts.
In the end, the rural-interface community of El Cajon has been shoved in one Assembly District that includes densely-urban Hillcrest – and another Assembly District that stretches to the Coastal community of Bay Ho overlooking Mission Bay.
It’s not just El Cajon and the ethnic minority Chaldeans that paid the price for these Commissioners’ partisan games.
In North County, these same three Commissioners pushed to decimate the I-15 Northern Corridor Community of Interest – and they even broke apart Escondido from Valley Center.
San Diego’s Asian community also got split up – as the Asian communities in Rancho Penasquitos, Carmel Valley, and University City were split up from Linda Vista, Mira Mesa, and Kearny Mesa. Under the aforementioned “San Diego Communities of Interest Redistricting Map Proposal,” Asians had an opportunity for an Assembly District that would have given them 36% of the population – but the Commissioners rejected that proposal.
Why was breaking up East County and North County so key for the Democrats on the Commission? By doing so, the Commission was able to pack in Republican areas into one single seat – thereby shifting the competitive profile of Assembly seats as follows:
2010 San Diego Assembly Map
- 2 Republican Seats
- 3 Democrat Seats
- 1 Competitive Seat
2020 San Diego Assembly Map
- 1 Republican Seat (-1)
- 5 Democrat Seats (+2)
This example is just from San Diego County. Statewide communities are also being split and ethnic minorities being disenfranchised by moves that seem to be driven purely by one metric: how to maximize Democrat advantage in the final maps.
Can anything be done?
Last week a civil rights attorney filed a lawsuit against the Commission for violating open meeting and transparency laws – and is asking that the Commission’s legal counsel be replaced after it was revealed that they have had a partisan conflict-of-interest by concurrently representing a number of Democrat officials and groups with a stake in the redistricting process.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this move will result in the lines being revised.
The only hope is for the remaining Commissioners to wake up and do their jobs by going back through public testimony and listening to what local elected officials and bona fide community groups are saying instead of listening to the Democrat front groups.
DeMaio hopes Commissioners will think of their duty to voters and also think of their reputations.
“If these maps are adopted, this Commission as a whole – and these individual agitators – will be remembered for corruption and incompetence,” concludes DeMaio.
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