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Latinos to Challenge Court Plan : Remapping: A coalition says the current proposal dilutes voting strength. It calls for an Oxnard-based Assembly district.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A statewide coalition of Latino leaders intends to ask the state Supreme Court today to redraw its proposed Assembly district boundaries so Latino voters in Ventura County are not divided among three districts.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund wants the court to create an Oxnard-based Assembly district that would pack enough Latino neighborhoods within its boundaries to allow them to influence Assembly elections.

“We wouldn’t be the majority, but we would have the swing vote,” said Marco Antonio Abarca, a member of the county Latino coalition working with MALDEF. “We need a representative who is responsive to our community. If we are a large voting bloc, we are likely to get more attention.”

Under MALDEF’s plan, Latinos would make up 40.1% of the population in the 35th Assembly District by connecting Latino neighborhoods in Oxnard with those in Santa Paula, Fillmore, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Goleta.

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The proposed district comes as part of the statewide minority challenge to the court’s proposed political map, drawn by three retired judges, that will govern state and congressional elections for the next decade.

The Supreme Court became involved in the once-a-decade redistricting when the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson reached a stalemate on the issue. The justices indicated that they will consider alternatives to the court plan, including those offered by MALDEF, and then adopt final political lines by Jan. 28.

“We are challenging several things including the configuration of the Assembly districts in the Santa Barbara-Ventura county area,” said Arturo Vargas, director of outreach and policy for MALDEF.

The group wants changes in half a dozen Assembly districts statewide. Vargas said MALDEF attorneys had planned to file the challenge with the court on Monday, but would not be ready until today.

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The civil rights group argues that the court’s political map violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act by splitting up Ventura County’s Latino voters, minimizing their political clout.

Under the court plan, the judges placed the significant Latino populations of Oxnard in one district, Santa Paula in another and Fillmore in a third.

“What they’ve done in Ventura County is extremely illegal,” said Bob Barber, a demographer who has advised a coalition of Ventura and Santa Barbara Latino leaders. “They have diluted the Latino voting strength by dividing them into three Assembly districts.”

Abarca said one of the coalition’s main goals is to increase Latino voter participation, which historically has been low. Only when Latinos see that their votes can make a difference, he said, will more be encouraged to get involved.

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“We are not going with the idea that we must have a Latino representing this district,” Abarca said. The 35th Assembly District is represented by Assemblyman Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria).

Abarca said Latinos need voting strength to back up the community’s special interest in state funding for bilingual classes, education for children of migrant farm workers, health care and other needs.

“We are more likely to be ignored if we are split into several districts,” he said.

The challenge to Assembly districts is only one target of Latino leaders who belong to the Ventura County Coalition on Redistricting and Reapportionment.

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In September, the group confronted county supervisors about their redistricting plan and forced them to include more Latinos in the district now represented by Supervisor John K. Flynn. The population of that district is now 53.1% Latino, about 3% more than originally proposed.

Abarca said the coalition also plans to get involved in the upcoming redesign of districts for the five-member Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees.

* RELATED STORY: A3


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