Back in 2008, California voters enacted Proposition 11, and in 2010, they passed Proposition 20. What does that mean? California voters have said that they want an independent citizens redistricting commission, not legislators, to draw state (Prop 11) and federal (Prop 20) legislative district lines. Hopefully this will mean that lines are drawn to create districts which best serve constituents' needs, and not to create districts which best serve our legislators' needs by giving them a slam dunk chance at re-election. (For more on the California legislators' successful incumbency protection plan of 2001, please see my previous post, here).
Last week the Census Bureau released the 2010 demographic information for California. We know that California will keep its 53 congressional seats. However, this hardly means that the redistricting commission's decisions will not shake up California politics. Retaining the same number of Congressional seats does not mean keeping the same old non-competitive elections.
Go East, young man?
Author Horace Greeley popularized the phrase, "go west young man," but Californians are doing just the opposite. It seems many of our state's residents are headed east.
Demographic changes indicate that some incumbents are likely on their way out. For instance, while the state will not lose any congressional seats, the coastal areas of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles likely will, in favor of an area with high population growth areas like rural areas east of the Bay Area and the Inland Empire.
Which party stands to benefit from the new census data?
Currently Democrats hold 34 of the state's 53 congressional seats and will likely pick up a number of seats during the 2011 redistricting. First, only thirty percent of registered voters identify themselves as Republicans, and Republicans do not constitute a majority of registered voters in California's congressional districts. Second, although the population growth is rapid in the eastern parts of the state, and those areas have typically been Republican strongholds, the portions of the population that are growing the fastest in those areas are Latinos and to a certain extent Asians, who have traditionally voted for democrats.
Specifically, growth among Latinos and Asians, who have traditionally voted for democratic candidates, has increased across the state, but particularly in the valleys, areas where Republicans have typically garnered their greatest successes. For instance, in the Inland Empire, given demographic shifts, that area could see a shift from safe, Republican districts to competitive, Democratic districts dominated by Latinos. While not an eastern area, a similar trend can be seen in Orange County, an area that has long been heavily Republican, is now seeing significant growth by minority groups who have historically voted for democrats.
No one knows exactly how many seats Republicans could lose in 2011, but it isn't totally unrealistic to think that number could be in the range of about half a dozen.
The commission is expected reveal its first draft of proposed district lines in about two months. Their final deadline is in August.
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday at noon. She is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School and the Director of Political Reform at a non-profit, non-partisan think tank.