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Remap Could Bring Major Gains for GOP

TIMES STAFF WRITER

New political districts prepared for the state Supreme Court can be expected to produce dramatic gains for the Republican Party next year, possibly giving the GOP control of California’s congressional delegation and, for the first time in two decades, one house of the Legislature.

Lawmakers and political consultants working for both parties also said Tuesday that Latinos should see their fortunes rise under the plan. The Republican and Latino gains both would come at the expense of Anglo Democrats.

Democrats, who have controlled the Legislature since 1970, would find themselves squeezed out of a number of seats because the state’s population--and its political districts--are shifting increasingly from Democratic-oriented urban areas to Republican strongholds in the suburbs.

The plan, released publicly Monday, was drafted by three retired judges appointed by the high court to break a deadlock between the Democratic-dominated state Legislature and Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who could not agree on how to redraw the boundaries to reflect population shifts reported in the 1990 U.S. Census.

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The lines, possibly with some changes, will become law in January unless the Legislature and the governor agree to an alternative plan or lawmakers muster the votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

But the prospects for either of those possibilities dimmed measurably Tuesday when lawmakers for the first time saw the partisan political impact of the proposed boundaries. Republicans, for the most part, are happy with the lines and see no reason to bargain with Democrats for anything different.

Democrats hold 47 of the 80 state Assembly seats and 24 of 40 seats in the Senate, where there also are two independents and a Democratic-leaning vacancy. Democrats occupy 26 of California’s 45 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Within a year, however, if the court adopts the lines presented to it, Republicans could control the Assembly with 42 or 43 of the 80 seats, experts in both parties suggested. They might whittle the Democrats’ advantage in the Senate down to 21-to-19.

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And Republicans could hold a majority of the expanded congressional delegation of 52 seats, which would represent a dramatic GOP gain of at least eight seats over what they hold today. Five of the seven new congressional seats are in Southern California and two are in the north. They appear to be split 4-to-3 in favor of the Republicans, based on registration figures in the proposed districts.

Besides Republicans, Latinos appear to be the big winners under the plan, drafted by retired judges George A. Brown, Rafael H. Galceran and Thomas Kongsgaard. Latinos hold a total of 10 seats in the Legislature and Congress. Under this plan, they could boost that to 14 in 1992.

Blacks now hold a total of 13 seats in the Legislature and Congress and are expected to retain all of them, with the possible exception of one Assembly seat in South-Central Los Angeles that is not heavily black and could go to another Democrat. Asians, who are not concentrated in sufficient numbers to control any one district, have no members in the Legislature and two in Congress. That is not expected to change.

The biggest losers stand to be Anglo Democrats, who could see their numbers drop by a dozen or more in Congress and the Legislature by the end of the next election season.

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All this could happen because the proposed lines were drawn with one eye on keeping minority communities unified and the other on keeping representation of cities, counties and geographic regions intact. Political party registration, the court’s appointees said, played no role in the decision.

This differs dramatically from the situation nine years ago, when Democratic and Republican incumbents approved new districts that gave almost every sitting lawmaker a safe seat and locked in the Democrats’ control of the Legislature and the congressional delegation.

“This plan breaks down the Berlin Wall that essentially divided the state into Democratic and Republican pieces,” said Anthony Quinn, who helped draw the 1982 plan as a consultant to the Assembly Republicans. “This is a far more dramatic change in the political map of California than anyone could have expected.”

Although Democrats hold a 49%-to-39% edge in registered voters statewide, the election results under the new plan are not expected to reflect the same split. One reason is that minority-oriented districts tend to be heavily Democratic, leaving fewer of that party’s voters to spread around to other districts. Also, Republicans tend to vote in greater numbers than do Democrats.

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Gov. Wilson and Assembly Republican Leader Bill Jones of Fresno issued separate, subdued statements praising the plan as fair and impartial. Privately, their advisers and rank and file Republican lawmakers were saying that they were overjoyed with the new boundaries.

Democratic leaders could not be reached for comment Tuesday. One Democrat--Assemblyman Steve Peace of Rancho San Diego--said after hearing a Democratic staff briefing on the plan that it was a “partisan gerrymander of gigantic proportions.”

“There is no reason for Republicans to do anything but cheer,” Peace said.

Because the court’s “special masters” paid no attention to the residences of incumbent lawmakers, the plan is replete with districts that lump two or three officeholders together. In the Assembly alone, 22 of the 80 seats include the homes of two or more incumbents.

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This wrinkle presents a much greater problem for Democrats than for Republicans. For the most part, Democrats thrown together must either retire or run against each other. Republicans are more likely to find a vacant nearby district to which they could move and run in.

In San Diego County, for instance, where four Democrats serve in the Assembly, there would remain just one strong Democratic seat. At least two Democrats--Pete Chacon and Peace--would fight for it. But while two Republicans--Tricia Hunter and Carol Bentley--are thrown together in a single district, each has the option of running in an adjacent, heavily Republican district.

The plan might be challenged in the federal courts on at least two fronts. Latino groups, while satisfied with the districts drawn for them in the Los Angeles area, are upset that the court’s panel failed to create heavily Latino seats in San Diego, the San Joaquin Valley and the Oxnard area.

“The plan is a real mixed bag,” said Arturo Vargas, a representative of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “They did look at our proposed plan for guidance. I just wish they’d taken a little bit more of our guidance.”

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The other potential problem is that the population in the congressional districts varies by as much as 2,800 people. Some Democratic experts said Tuesday that this appears to exceed the amount allowed under the federal one-person-one-vote doctrine, which requires that the population be as evenly distributed as possible.

Redistricting Plan: Projecting Representation

The California Supreme Court this week released legislative and congressional district lines drawn by a panel of retired judges appointed by the court. The once-a-decade remapping plan is intended to create districts with approximately equal populations as well as to ensure that minority voters have fair representation.

An examination of the new districts by The Times suggests that Latino representation would increase. Black and Asian representation is unlikely to change. Democrats would lose seats while Republicans would gain.

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Here are some of the highlights:

Latino Representation / Statewide

Now New Plan *Assembly 4 6 *Senate 3 4 *Congress 3 4

Democrat vs. Republican / Statewide

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ASSEMBLY Now New Plan * Democrats 47 36 * Republicans 33 36

* Under the new plan, experts consider eight seats to be competitive.

STATE SENATE Now New Plan * Democrats 24 22 * Republicans 13 16 * Independent 2 0

There is currently one vacancy in the Senate. * Under the new plan, experts consider two seats to be competitive.

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CONGRESS Now New Plan * Democrats 26 24 * Republicans 19 24

* Under the new plan, experts consider four seats to be competitive.

Contributing to this story was Times staff writer Ralph Frammolino.


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