California Republicans say McCarthy endorsed gerrymandering that lost them 4 seats
Just over a year ago on Nov. 8, 2011, Human Events reported on a plan for the redistricting of California’s 53 U.S. House Districts that was completed by an ostensibly nonpartisan citizens commission. Based on the conclusions of numerous GOP leaders throughout the Golden State, we warned that, with the failure to get a counter-offensive proposal on the statewide ballot that would undo the new district lines, Republicans in California would be “faced with the possible loss of six of their present 19 U.S. Representatives.”
We were almost right on the money. On Nov. 6, California Republicans lost four seats, bringing their representation in the state’s 53-Member U.S. House delegation down from 19 seats in the last Congress to a low of 15 in the next Congress. Running in districts that were redrawn unfavorably to them, Republican Reps. Dan Lungren, Brian Bilbray, and Mary Bono Mack all went down in defeat. In addition, the Ventura County district, held by retiring GOP Rep. Elton Gallegly for 26 years, elected as its new U.S. Representative left-wing Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley over conservative GOP State Sen. Tony Strickland.
For the failure to mount a counter-offensive to the plan that cost them dearly at the polls, many party leaders in the state—before and after the election—blame one of the most prominent of all California Republicans in Congress: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who has just been re-elected by his colleagues as majority whip in the House, the No. 3 position in the House GOP hierarchy.
“As you are aware, Kevin and I had an elevated conversation on the redistricting plan,” Rep. Gallegly told Human Events Friday. “He felt the plan that came out of the citizen’s commission was fine. I disagreed, and, in fact, so did a majority of our [California] Republican congressmen. We wanted to have the lines [for congressional districts] drawn by a panel of retired judges, as they were in 1991 after [then-Republican Gov.] Pete Wilson kept vetoing unfavorable plans passed by the [Democratic-controlled] state legislature. The plan drawn by the judges gave Republicans the most fair playing field in races for Congress from California in decades. Well, Kevin got the plan he liked. The results speak for themselves. It is what it is.”
Gallegly’s view that the redistricting plan was inadequate–to say the least–was strongly seconded by California State GOP Chairman Tom DelBeccaro, who told us: “Any thoughtful observer knew Democrats were gaming the ‘non-partisan’ process. Many of us expressed concerns during the process and after they drew the lines. The election outcome certainly justifies the concerns I raised and it also makes it clear beyond doubt that there should have been a greater effort to overturn the congressional lines.”
How it happened
The clash among Republicans over congressional redistricting took place last summer. Under state law, the Republicans needed to collect and have certified at least 504,000 signatures from voters statewide in 90 days in order to have the state Supreme Court put a hold on the congressional redistricting plan and then appoint a special master to draw an alternative plan. Voters would then have chosen between the master’s plan and the commission plan in a statewide referendum.
On Aug. 18, 2011, sources told us, a letter signed by a majority of the Republican House members from California agreeing to fight the plan was finalized and a copy e-mailed to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The next day, at McCarthy’s request, a conference call was held that included only some of the Republican lawmakers from California since it was held during a district work period and many were unable to join the call. The same sources say that McCarthy — who was participating in the call while in Israel — was adamant in his opposition to an attempt to overturn the commission plan, reportedly insisting it would be wasted money and would fail in the end.
Under NRCC rules, it was impossible for Chairman Sessions to join in the battle for funds without the backing of a majority of the California delegation. In addition, it was out of the question for lawmakers to raise outside funds for a petition drive without the full backing of the GOP lawmakers. So the drive to fight the pro-Democrat congressional lines fizzled.
Opponents of the plan subsequently filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the congressional lines were in violation of the Voting Rights Act, but they subsequently withdrew the suit.
“We certainly could have done better with another map—any other map,” former Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.), a leader behind the failed petition drive, told Human Events last week.
On April 25 of this year, when McCarthy was asked how he felt Republicans would fare in House races under the redistricting plan he so wanted, the GOP whip replied that “we’ll break even. We’ll probably lose a seat but (former Lieutenant Gov. and liberal Republican) Abel Maldonado will probably win the Santa Barbara district (of Democratic Rep. Lois Capps).”
Maldonado lost and Republicans lost a lot more of what they previously had in California’s House delegation. McCarthy won re-election by a landslide in a district made significantly more Republican under the new map.
“Kevin McCarthy was a staunch defender of these new lines, reassuring everyone that Republicans would fare just fine under them,” said Jon Fleischman of the Flash Report, the much-read online newsletter on California politics. “Clearly, this turned out not to be the case– although he was easily re-elected to the safe seat drawn for him. Had he drawn a competitive district, I wonder if he would have been so enthusiastic about the lines he helped stopped others from trying to stop.”