California Redistricting Bad for the GOP

What was billed as a “bipartisan” plan for redrawing California’s 53 U.S. House districts is turning out to be a blueprint that will in all likelihood cost Republicans a handful of the 19 congressional seats they now hold in the Golden State.

Under a plan backed by liberal Republican former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and enacted by voters in a statewide initiative two years ago, congressional districts would no longer be drawn by the state legislature but by a bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission.  The 14 members of the commission—five Republicans, five Democrats and four “Declined to State” (Californian for “independent”)—would be drawn from a lottery by the state auditor. 

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Schwarzenegger is the way former Secretary of State George Schulz characterized the commission concept, predicting it would end the partisan bickering that has been a staple of past redistricting battles.  Schulz and others predicted that nonpartisanship and “civility” would be restored to the political arena by this new venue for redistricting.

So as the commission recently unveiled its final map and the new lines are prepared for a vote by the 14-member panel, former State GOP Chairman Mike Schroeder told HUMAN EVENTS:  “The results from the reapportionment process will do significant damage to the Republican Party.  We could easily lose two and as many as five congressional seats.  And the current lines for legislative districts [also drawn by a similar citizens’ commission] suggest that Democrats may win two-thirds of the seats in the state assembly and state senate—or enough to permit Democrats to enact tax increases under state law.  It’s not good at all.”

“The newest blueprint appears likely to result in pain for Republicans, who could see a two- to three-seat loss in the state,” echoed Politico. 

For Schroeder and other California GOPers, the most unpleasant situation seems to be developing in Orange County, where 10-term Republican Rep. Ed Royce (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98.17%) finds much of his old district divied up into three neighboring districts, with even Royce’s residence placed in the turf of fellow conservative GOP Rep. Gary Miller (lifetime ACU rating:  94%).

“And Ed didn’t endear himself to activists when the previous [commission] draft of the district lines came down and he signaled he would move to run in the neighboring district of [GOP Rep.] John Campbell, and that forced Campbell to say he would run in the district of [GOP Rep.] Dana Rohrabacher,” said one Orange County Republican activist who requested anonymity.  “Now, in the final lines, it’s Ed who is the guy with the short end of the stick.”

 By far the Republican lawmaker hurt the most by the plan is House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, who was drawn into a Democratic district in Los Angeles County and has no neighboring turf that is competitive in which to jump.  Betting is strong that Dreier, who came to Congress on Ronald Reagan’s coattails back in 1980, will retire.

Republican strength was also diluted in the Sacramento-area district held by GOP Rep. Dan Lungren.  A former state attorney general and 1998 nominee for governor, Lungren was held to a surprisingly low 53% reelection margin last year.  In facing a rematch with wealthy physician and liberal Democrat Ami Bera, Lungren is clearly in for the fight of his career.

Still another GOP congressman feeling the impact of redistricting is freshman Jeff Denham, who won the Central Valley seat last year that had been held comfortably by fellow conservative Republican George Radanovich since 1994.  Now the district is Democratic-leaning, and Denham is likely to face a stiff challenge.

About the only Democratic House member who has felt similar pain from the redistricting knife is Rep. Lois Capps of the Santa Barbara area.  Capps, who won the seat held by late husband Walter back in 1998, could face a race from former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.  Conservative GOPers look at this as a “lose-lose” situation, recalling that Maldonado was a Schwarzenegger ally who loyally backed the former governor’s calls for record-high tax increases.

There are other changes mandated by the so-called bipartisan plan, but these are the most significant.  If there is any lesson from this, it is that for whatever reason, “good government” proposals more often than not seem to yield the same results as the derided partisan means formerly did in the redistricting process.  And more often than not, it seems to work against Republicans.