Walters: Stage set for epic bloodletting on congressional districts

October 31, 2009 

When Gov. Schwarzenegger and a coalition of business and political reform groups enacted a ballot measure to shift legislative redistricting from the Legislature to an independent commission, they purposely left congressional redistricting in lawmakers' hands.

Congressional leaders and members of both parties left little doubt that were they included in redistricting reform, they would raise and spend millions to defeat it.

It's still uncertain how California's congressional delegation will fare when 435 House seats are divvied up after the 2010 census. The range appears to be from a net loss of one seat to a net gain of one, depending on how the census settles a long-running dispute -- involving about a million people -- between federal and state demographers.

A ballot measure has been proposed to take congressional redistricting away from the Legislature as well, but more than likely the next governor and state lawmakers will be deciding how those seats -- whether there are 52, 53 or 54 --are configured.

That means many term-limited state legislators will be attempting to carve out new careers in Congress. Throw in some new rules that Schwarzenegger's initiative imposed on redistricting, some interregional rivalries, some demographic shifts and ethnicity, and the stage is set for hardball insider politics circa 2011.

A statistical analysis by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government provides background for the coming bloodletting.

Were congressional redistricting to follow changes in population during this decade, the Rose study determined, it would shift some seats from slow-growing Democratic urban areas along the coast to fast-growing, Republican-leaning inland regions such as the Central Valley.

Democratic legislators would be unlikely to do that for obvious reasons, and were they to have a compliant Democratic governor, they'd probably shrink GOP ranks (now 19 of 53 seats) by clever mapmaking.

Another potential conflict is that although the state's Latino population has grown dramatically to more than a third of the state, Latinos hold just six of the 53 current congressional seats, while blacks, with less than 7 percent of the population, have three. Preserving black representation while accommodating Latinos might require cutting into the districts of long-serving white Democratic congressional members in Southern California.

All in all, congressional redistricting should be quite a political show.

Contact Walters at dwalters@sacbee.com.

THE SACRAMENTO BEE

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