When a redistricting plan in California was unveiled earlier this year that would have reduced the present Republican ranks in the 40-member state senate from 15 to 11, Golden State Republicans went to war. In short order, they helped raise nearly $2.4 million for a statewide drive to collect the 504,000 signatures on petitions needed to thwart what they considered blatant gerrymandering.
But when a similar redistricting plan came down for California’s 53 U.S. House districts and GOPers were faced with the possible loss of six of their present nineteen U.S. Representatives, the proposed counter-offensive fizzled and, by all reports, is dead.
“There was a strong spirit among our Republican state senators to raise the money and fight, to try to overturn the plan of the commission [a 14-member panel of private citizens who oversaw the drawing of new districts for the state legislature and Congress],” California’s State GOP Chairman Tom DelBeccaro told HUMAN EVENTS, “I did not sense that same fighting spirit among our Republican House delegation.”
For that refusal to fight, most state Republicans who spoke to us placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of one of the most powerful among their ranks in Congress: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R.-Cal.), who as majority whip in the House, ranks third in the Republican GOP hierarchy.
Because the new plan gave him a district that is substantially more Republican, sources told us, McCarthy worked actively to discourage his fellow GOP colleagues from raising the money and launching the counter-attack that might have saved six in their ranks– notably that of House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, the elimination of whose Los Angeles County district has left him no options for re-election.
“The single strongest advocate of letting the plan stand was Kevin McCarthy,” charged Jon Fleischman, editor of California’s much-read “Flash Report” on-line political newsletter. “He called every single member and lobbied them against raising money [for the petition drive]. Because there was no unity in the delegation, [National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman] Pete Sessions’ hands were tied and he could not put in the money from his committee for a petition drive. And Kevin McCarthy got a district with a 17% Republican advantage.”
How the Counterattack Fizzled
Under state law, the Republicans needed to collect and have certified at least 504,000 signatures from voters statewide in ninety 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.
A Republican-backed group known as FAIR (Fairness and Accountability In Redistricting) raised the funds and is expected to submit later this week far beyond the minimum number of signatures to challenge the senate lines in the 90-day period required by law for this activity from the moment the new map was issued.
“With a Republican majority in the House, we assumed that there would be no difficulty raising similar funds and starting the counter-attack on the congressional lines,” said Carlos Rodriguez, a veteran GOP consultant in California who has handled winning campaigns for conservatives such as former Republican Reps. Christopher Cox and George Radanovich.
On August 18, 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-Tex.), 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 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. In contrast to the movement to overturn the state senate lines, the drive to fight the congressional lines fizzled.
Asked by HUMAN EVENTS for a response to the charges that the House GOP Whip undid the Republican-backed effort to overturn congressional district lines in his home state, McCarthy spokeswoman Sarah Pompei replied: “”Kevin McCarthy spent the last two years traveling across the country recruiting Republican candidates in congressional races across the country – and he continues to work to elect candidates with conservative principles today. Congressman McCarthy is also committed to electing Republicans to office up and down the ticket in California to bring conservative principles to government at the state as well as the federal level.”
For now, Radanovich, Rodriquez, and others who were behind the aborted petition drive are now pushing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the congressional boundaries under the Voting Rights Act. This is a move that many conservatives are somewhat uncomfortable with—as they have long felt the Act which guarantees minority groups districts in Congress is unconstitutional—but are going along with as a last-ditch effort to save their endangered lawmakers.
But the same Republicans also agree that the best opportunity to save their House Members in California from the redistricting knife was lost when the petition drive was denied its critical funding. And for that, fingers are almost universally pointed to the delegation itself.