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Hearing Slated Over Redistricting

Times Staff Writer

Democratic lawmakers announced Wednesday that they intend to hold a hearing next month to ask what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s staff knew about technical problems with a redistricting initiative he supports.

They called the joint Assembly and Senate hearing in response to disclosures that Schwarzenegger’s legal secretary knew of the problems at least several days before notifying the secretary of state, who oversees the initiative process.

Backers of Proposition 77 say they inadvertently submitted to the attorney general a different version of the measure than was circulated to the more than 950,000 voters who signed petitions to place it on the ballot.

“The questions are whether there was any horsing around with the process of qualifying this initiative,” said Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), who will conduct a hearing Aug. 17 with Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim). They chair the elections committees in their respective houses.

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Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson dismissed the hearings as a “political stunt.” She noted that no law compelled the initiative proponents to inform the secretary of state of discrepancies, but they did so anyway.

“There’s nothing that’s been done that’s wrong,” said Thompson.

The situation had already prompted a legal challenge by Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, a Democrat. He sued July 8 to remove it from the ballot, arguing that proponents violated the elections code.

A hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court is set for today. Two minority voting rights groups filed a separate lawsuit in the same court Wednesday, and a third group sought to block the initiative in federal court in San Jose.

The initiative would take the authority to draw political boundaries from the Legislature and give it to a panel of retired judges. It has become an increasingly important piece of the Republican governor’s ballot agenda as other planks in his ambitious plan to overhaul state government have fallen away in the last year.

The measure was drafted and circulated by People’s Advocate, a Sacramento anti-tax group led by political activist Ted Costa.

Democratic lawmakers say they want to know whether the staffs of Schwarzenegger and Costa deliberately waited to tell Secretary of State Bruce McPherson of a potential problem with the initiative until after June 10, when his office cleared the measure to be included on the November ballot.

“Who knew it, when did they know it and what did they know,” said Umberg.

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According to court documents and interviews with people involved, on June 13, three days after the secretary of state certified the measure, the governor’s legal secretary and a lawyer hired by Costa’s group informed McPherson’s office of the discrepancies between what was submitted to the attorney general and what appeared on voter petitions.

Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger’s legal secretary, said he and initiative backers had planned to tell the secretary of state before the measure was cleared for the ballot. The June 10 certification caught him off guard, he said.

“We had always thought, OK, we’ve got to get to the secretary of state,” said Siggins. “Quite frankly, [certification] happened a lot earlier than we thought.”

Siggins said he learned of the discrepancies in May from attorneys for Citizens to Save California, a committee formed to back the governor’s ballot agenda. He said he didn’t want to contact the secretary of state’s office until the initiative proponents had figured out what went wrong and what the legal ramifications might be.

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“It didn’t seem prudent to me to call the secretary of state and say we think we have a problem,” said Siggins, “but we don’t know what it is and we don’t know how significant it is.”

Siggins’ involvement with Proposition 77 raised a red flag for Bowen, who questioned whether Schwarzenegger’s staff was violating a state law that prohibits the use of state resources -- including staff time -- for work on initiatives.

“There seemed to be a fair number of people in the governor’s office dealing with initiatives,” she said.

Siggins said he needed to be kept informed of the status of the redistricting initiative because he was responsible for writing the governor’s June 13 proclamation that established the special election.

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Backers of Proposition 77 call the differences between the two versions insubstantial and the result of an innocent mistake. They say an office manager for People’s Advocate inadvertently sent an earlier draft to signature-gatherers than had been submitted to the attorney general. The law requires Lockyer’s office to write a brief description for voters of what the initiative would do.

The versions differ in 11 places. The word “nominate” is used in one version but replaced in the other by “select,” where the document lays out the procedure for picking a pool of judges to draw districts. The introduction to the legal text is also much shorter in one version, and the version shown to voters gives legislative leaders five days to pick a panel of judges, while the version Lockyer got allows six days.

In his lsuit, Lockyer calls the versions “substantially different” and argues that even if they were not, allowing ballot measure proponents to change a measure after his office had written a title and summary would amount to “bait and switch” tactics.

A separate lawsuit seeking to block Proposition 77 from the ballot was filed Wednesday by the William C. Velasquez Institute, a national Latino policy and research nonprofit group, and the Congress of Racial Equality of California Legal Defense and Education Fund, a branch of the national civil rights group.

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The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also sued in federal court in San Jose to block the initiative.


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