Lawmakers Miss Deadline for Redrawing Districts


As state lawmakers crashed through their self-imposed deadline for enacting new legislative and congressional districts for the 1990s, Senate leaders said Friday that they intend to amend their proposal to address objections raised by Asian-Americans, blacks and Latinos.

A major Latino group, meanwhile, accused Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) of protecting incumbents while falling miserably short of meeting the needs of the rapidly expanding Latino population in Los Angeles and other parts of the state. The Latinos said they would go to court to block the new districts if Brown's proposals are enacted without significant revisions.

On the congressional front, some Democratic and Republican incumbents continued to meet behind closed doors in an effort to reach a compromise that they can submit to the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

In remarks to reporters before delivering a speech in Orange County on Friday night, Wilson indicated that the sides were still far from an agreement. "I predict we will have a fair and honest reapportionment, but I can't tell you if it will come out of the Legislature or come out of the courts," the governor said.

Later, in his speech at the Nixon Library, Wilson said he would meet today with legislative leaders but threatened to veto any redistricting plan that he views as being unfair. "We are not asking for a Republican gerrymander, we are simply asking (for) a fair reapportionment."

And, amid reports of increasing pushing and shoving among Republicans interested in running for Congress, two conservative former Assembly Republican leaders who have been at odds with Wilson confirmed that they are considering whether to leave the Legislature to run for seats in the House of Representatives.

These developments came as legislative leaders said they would extend their midnight Friday deadline for ending this year's session until next week. It appears that lawmakers consider Thursday to be their true deadline for approving the new districts.

The battle over new districts has monopolized the time of legislative leaders as rank-and-file lawmakers have slogged through hundreds of bills that were scheduled to be considered before the Legislature adjourned for the year. Seven new districts in Congress and control of state policy into the 21st Century are at stake.

Only in the state Senate did lawmakers appear to be anywhere near agreement on a plan. On Friday, Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said members had agreed to a number of changes that they hoped would resolve objections by minorities.

The most dramatic change was in San Francisco, where two existing districts that divide the Asian-American community would be changed so that in one district Asian-Americans would make up about one-third of the population.

The amended Senate plan also would unite the Asian-Americans in the San Gabriel Valley with Asian-American communities near downtown Los Angeles. They would be in the 24th Senate District, which is represented by Democrat Art Torres. The district would still be overwhelmingly Latino.

Roberti also said the new plan, the details of which are to be made public this weekend, would address the concerns of blacks in Oakland and Sacramento who had complained that the boundaries placed them in districts in which they had little in common with the voters who would dominate the districts.

In the San Joaquin Valley, Roberti said, the Senate is making an effort to increase Latino representation in one district. But he said it probably would fall short of meeting the demands of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which wants at least 51% of the voting-age residents to be Latino.

Still, MALDEF representatives said the Senate lines are the closest to addressing their objective of eliminating instances in which Latinos are divided in a way that dilutes their political influence. MALDEF reserved most of its criticism for the Assembly, saying that the sketchy versions of that house's proposed maps appear to harm Latino interests.

"The Assembly falls miserably short of providing for the Latino community," said Arturo Vargas, who is directing MALDEF's redistricting project.

Vargas said at a Capitol news conference that the Assembly plans appear to leave Latinos with three Los Angeles seats in which Latinos could elect a candidate of their choice--the same number as now. A plan drawn by MALDEF has five such districts.

If the Assembly plan is enacted without addressing MALDEF's concerns, Vargas said, the group will seek the intervention of the U.S. Justice Department or go to court under the federal Voting Rights Act to stop the districts from being used in the 1992 elections.

Congressional incumbents, meanwhile, were meeting privately on several plans for dividing the state's 52 seats, but none appeared to enjoy the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the delegation.

The line-drawing is complicated by the fact that an increasing number of legislators are expressing an interest in Congress, and it is legislators who must vote on the congressional lines. The latest to talk of seeking seats are former Assembly Republican leaders Ross Johnson of La Habra and Pat Nolan of Glendale.

Johnson and Nolan are leaders of a faction of conservative Republicans who bucked Gov. Wilson and voted against his plan to raise about $7 billion in taxes as part of his program to erase a $14.3-billion budget deficit. Another key member of that group, Assemblyman William P. Baker of Danville, has already announced that he plans to run for Congress.

The departure of all three would give Wilson the chance to help pick the candidates to replace them.

BERMAN'S BALANCING ACT: Rep. Howard Berman plays a key role in redistricting. B1

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