Redistricting Alters Political Landscape for Long Beach


The state’s new congressional district boundaries are spelling big changes for Long Beach.

Its port--a major economic engine for the region--and most of its predominantly white, affluent neighborhoods have been sliced from the rest of the city and added to a new district drawn to favor Orange County Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican. And most of the rest of the city--ethnically diverse and poorer--has been included in the district of Carson-based Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a Democrat.

With the impending retirement of maverick Republican Rep. Stephen Horn, whose 38th District was obliterated by political map makers, the state’s fifth-largest city probably will be without one of its own in Congress for the first time in a decade.

Many observers saw potential troubles in the city’s bifurcation and loss of a hometown representative. There was a brief but mostly futile appeal last summer to the Democrat-dominated Legislature, which redrew the state’s congressional, state Senate and Assembly district boundaries. The map makers responded by producing a more favorable reworking of the Senate district lines but stood firm on congressional boundaries.


Now, as the March 5 primary brings the new political landscape into sharper focus, there is much discussion among civic leaders about how to make the best of a less than ideal situation.

“This is not overall a good picture for Long Beach. The city will have a lower profile, a little less awareness in Washington,” said Paul Schmidt, a political science professor at Cal State Long Beach.

“Long Beach was divided up to serve other political purposes,” Schmidt said.

Those purposes involved producing a redistricting plan aimed at giving nearly all 52 California incumbents “safe” seats from which to run for reelection. With the agreement of the state leaders of both parties, Horn’s district was carved up to help accomplish this. In addition to using parts of the district to shore up Rohrabacher and Millender-McDonald, map makers used a portion to help form the only added district, engineered to elect a Latino Democrat.

Mayor Is Unconcerned

Some Long Beach leaders, such as Mayor Beverly O’Neill, downplay the ramifications of the changes.

“I think people are sorry to see the district dissolved, but I don’t see any concern” about the two incumbents who are widely expected to win the local congressional races, O’Neill said of Millender-McDonald and Rohrabacher. “They are good, energetic people, and they are not strangers to Long Beach.”

Millender-McDonald, a former Carson city councilwoman and state Assembly member, has represented an eastern section of Long Beach since winning her congressional seat in a crowded special election in March 1996. Rohrabacher, of Huntington Beach, represented the port and western parts of Long Beach when he was first elected in 1988 until district boundaries changed in 1992.


Randy Gordon, president and chief executive of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said many in the business community, initially disappointed with the imminent loss of Horn, are now focusing on building good working relationships with Millender-McDonald and Rohrabacher.

“Things change and politicians move on,” Gordon said. “It is really incumbent on us to work really hard to educate our leaders” on issues, especially regarding the port and its importance to the Southern California economy. He added that chamber leaders have met with Rohrabacher and are trying to schedule a reception for Millender-McDonald.

Millender-McDonald, whose new district includes nearly 80% of Long Beach, said she spends considerable time in town when she returns to the district each weekend from Washington.

“I’m amused by that whole notion that I have a newfound territory. I already am the representative for part of Long Beach, and I do not bifurcate the city,” Millender-McDonald said. “Whatever funding and other resources come into the city, that’s for the whole city.”

Despite having an opponent from Long Beach in the March 5 primary, Millender-McDonald said, she does not anticipate running an expensive reelection campaign and has yet to open a campaign headquarters; much of the money she is raising will go to help Democratic women candidates across the nation, and she expects to reserve just enough for a couple of campaign mailers for herself, she said.

“I’ve tried to keep in touch with my constituents, and I come in regularly to talk about issues,” said Millender-McDonald. She noted that she has worked with Horn to secure funding for projects important to Long Beach, including the Alameda Corridor--a high-speed rail-and-truck line between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and a freight transfer station south of downtown Los Angeles.


Strong Edge for Democrats

Democrats hold such a strong edge over Republicans--63% to 18%--in the newly drawn 37th District that victory in the upcoming Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the seat in November. Democratic leaders last year cast about for a Long Beach-based elected official to take on Millender-McDonald in the primary but found no one willing to challenge an incumbent, although more than half the voters in the new district live in Long Beach.

Instead, Millender-McDonald’s only primary challenger is community college political science instructor Peter Mathews, who ran several times in Horn’s district and who cites his longtime ties to Long Beach as a reason he can win. He has been lining up endorsements in Carson and Compton and challenging Millender-McDonald to debates (she has so far declined).

But insiders said Mathews has undermined his own credibility by running unsuccessfully so often, and they don’t give him much of a chance.

Candidate Faces Uphill Battle

In November, Rohrabacher, who is unopposed in the new 46th District’s Republican primary, will face Democrat Gerrie Schipske, a Long Beach nurse-practitioner, attorney and college instructor who came very close to defeating Horn in 2000.

But Schipske is finding it hard to stir interest--and raise money--in her campaign for the new district, which runs from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Costa Mesa. Republicans hold a 48%-33% registration edge. Schipske contends that the district is more moderate than the conservative Rohrabacher and sees an opportunity in the 14% of the district’s registered voters who are independent, but she acknowledges that her race is a tough sell.

“It’s like starting all over again,” Schipske, the only Democrat on the primary ballot, said of her efforts to interest donors and party leaders in her race.


Like other insiders, Long Beach-based political consultant Jeffrey Adler believes that the city “loses a lot” in the redistricting and will probably elect a local to Congress again one day, perhaps when Millender-McDonald steps down.

“Across the board, across the spectrum, Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Long Beach would be best served by a district that was inclusive” of most of the city’s neighborhoods and its port, Adler said.

“And I am sure that will remain on the agenda for the next 10 years,” he said, when districts are again redrawn.

Adler added, “In the Long Beach political lexicon, reunifying the city is election reform.”