Incumbents Come First in Redistricting, Speaker Says : Capitol: Brown vows fairness to voters and the GOP while looking after interests of Democratic officeholders. Critics charge he is breaking promise.
Although promising a redistricting plan that is fair to both parties and maximizes the power of ethnic minorities, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown conceded Thursday that the desires of incumbent lawmakers will come first as the Assembly draws new district lines for the 1992 elections.
Brown’s comments drew quick criticism from representatives of groups that have been monitoring the redistricting process. They said the Speaker’s attitude shows that little has changed since 1982 when the Legislature drew the current, much-maligned boundaries.
Brown, in an interview with The Times’ Sacramento Bureau, said his line-drawers will consider first the wishes of current members of the Assembly, not what others think might make sense for the communities involved. In this way, he said, redistricting is just like any other bill considered by the Legislature.
“It may appear to be self-serving for them, it may very well be self-serving, but nevertheless it’s no different than school finance, no different than mental health, no different than anything else, except the member happens to be directly involved,” Brown said. “You’re dealing with people who represent the area. They tend to exhibit and hopefully demonstrate what their people want.”
In other comments, the San Francisco Democrat said he expects the new plan--drafts of which may be released next week--to have 15 to 18 minority-controlled seats, compared to the current 11. He said the plan will give Republicans a fair chance to win in a majority of the Assembly’s 80 districts.
Brown also said the central Los Angeles district formerly held by Democrat Mike Roos will be divided up and the territory attached to several neighboring districts. Still, he said, an effort will be made to safeguard the political future of newly elected Democrat Barbara Friedman, basically because she is a woman. “If a white male had won that (special election to replace Roos), he would already be looking for a new job,” Brown said.
As a way of illustrating the importance he places on the viewpoints of incumbent legislators, Brown said the boundaries for West Los Angeles will depend on the political plans of Democratic Assemblyman Burt Margolin, who represents part of the area. If Margolin decides to stay in the Assembly, his district lines will be drawn one way, Brown said. If Margolin leaves the Assembly to run for Congress, the boundaries of his district probably will be shifted to favor Friedman, although Friedman said she will fight to retain her present district lines.
Speaking generally, Brown rejected the idea that district lines should be drawn based on the characteristics of the communities and the voters involved.
“You can’t just stand back and say the Burt Margolin seat should be designed in the following fashion,” Brown said. “You say that Barbara Friedman, who is going to vote for the (redistricting) bill, should express herself about what she thinks the territory she currently represents and the Margolin territory have in common. And the same thing goes for everybody else around.”
Margaret Herman, a League of Women Voters official who keeps an eye on redistricting, said Brown’s statements show that he continues to view the districts as the “property” of whoever is elected to represent them.
Herman’s group was among many that supported an unsuccessful 1990 attempt to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to an independent commission. While that ballot measure was under attack by lawmakers--it was rejected by the voters--Speaker Brown pledged to open the map-drawing process to the public and implement a plan fair to both parties.
Now, Herman said, those promises appear to have been hollow. The lines are being drawn behind closed doors, and public hearings, when they are held, will be after the fact, she contended.
“When it gets right down to the nitty gritty, we don’t seem to have made any improvement, any reform at all,” Herman said. “They act as if the districts belong to incumbents. The whole idea of districts that make sense to the voters is not an issue with them.”
In the interview, Brown also rejected the oft-stated criticism that the current plan favors Democrats at the expense of Republicans. Brown said even by Republican standards of fairness, there are 43 or 44 districts that the GOP could win. The Republicans have only 31 seats, with two Republican-leaning vacancies, because they have fielded inferior candidates and run poor campaigns, he said.
Assembly Republican Leader Bill Jones of Fresno confirmed in a separate interview that he had proposed that a fair district be defined in part as one that had at least 38% Republican registration and had voted for President George Bush in 1988.
But Jones said there are other factors to consider. He added that many of the districts that now meet that standard were more heavily Democratic when they were drawn in 1982.
“We have districts that are scattered all over the map,” Jones said. “They’re not compact, there’s no respect for communities of interest, no respect for county lines, city lines. The current map is not acceptable.”