Democrats Offer Deal on Remap

Times Staff Writer

Democratic leaders would agree to give an independent panel the power to decide the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts as long as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would wait until after the 2010 census to redraw the lines, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said Monday.

Democrats would be willing to “have an objective third party that draws the district boundaries,” Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said, adding that he also was speaking for Senate Democratic Leader Don Perata (D-Oakland).

“That’s huge movement on our part,” Nunez said. “To give up drawing the district boundaries is no small thing.”


Schwarzenegger has said the current legislative boundaries were gerrymandered to protect incumbents. He has made it a priority to take the power to draw district lines away from the Legislature and give it to a panel of retired judges.

So far, he has insisted that the change take effect in 2006, and he has said that he would take his proposal to voters in the fall if the Legislature did not approve it.

Some legal experts, however, say that even if the governor wins, drawing new lines in time for the 2006 election may be impossible. The boundaries would have to be based on 2000 census data.

California’s population has grown by 2.6 million people since then, state demographers said.

Mapmakers using out-of-date information would be unable to guarantee that the 80 Assembly, 40 Senate and 53 congressional districts they drew would contain nearly equal numbers of people to meet constitutional requirements.

That makes a court challenge practically inevitable, the academic and legal experts say. States typically redraw their political boundaries once every 10 years using fresh census data.

Experts say only one state has voluntarily redrawn lines mid-decade -- Texas in 2003 -- and the legality of that Republican-led plan has been challenged in federal court, with a decision expected any day.

“If you’re looking at doing another redistricting mid-decade, we don’t have accurate data,” said Karin Mac Donald, who oversees California’s redistricting database, which is housed at the University of California’s Institute of Governmental Studies in Berkeley. “We would probably be in court until 2010.”

Steve Reyes, a staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Los Angeles, said: “There’s a problem with using outdated census data. It’s not going to get you close to one-person, one-vote districts ... of equal size. During the last redistricting here they were within five people here and there.”

Other redistricting experts said there should be no legal reason why new lines could not be based on 2000 census data.

“It’s a human compromise as to how you do the best you can without saying we have to change lines every 20 minutes every time a kid’s born, dies or drives out of town,” said Chip Nielsen, a Marin County attorney with Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Muller & Naylor, which was heavily involved in redistricting disputes in the 1980s.

“The bottom line is, on this sort of stuff, there is nothing that’s perfect,” he said. “The size of the districts changes every day. But the rule is you’ve got to use the most recent census data.... So the question is, could you have districts that change four years or six years into the decade? The answer is, why not?”

Under the current lines, which were crafted by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in 2001, not one of 153 seats changed party hands in the last election.

In a speech last week in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger said the current districts were drawn by “a political elite building a fortress to keep themselves in and to keep the people out.”

The independent redistricting plan, ACAX1 3 introduced by Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and backed by the governor, will probably not pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature so long as it requires new lines before the 2010 census, Nunez said.

“You cannot draw district boundaries without making sure that every vote counts,” Nunez said. “And you can’t make sure every vote counts if you don’t have a census which will tell you whether we have 3 million new people, 5 million new people or a million new people. Anything short of that is a political power grab by the Republicans to try and move Democratic seats over to the Republican aisle.”

McCarthy said that if his bill dies, the governor will take his fight to voters and endorse an initiative drafted by anti-tax activist Ted Costa that includes an immediate redrawing of political boundaries. Schwarzenegger is expected to call a special election in November to push several major proposals, including redistricting.

Nunez said Democrats are willing to take their chances with voters.

Even if voters pass a measure in November, experts say, there probably isn’t enough time to prepare for a June 2006 primary.

County election officials and those familiar with past redistricting efforts say that at least five months are needed after maps are redrawn to adjust voting precincts within counties, alert voters to new polling places and give candidates time to campaign.

Passage of a ballot measure in November would leave only a month or two, including the December holidays, for a panel of retired judges to be chosen, hold public hearings and redraw lines for 173 districts.

Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Conny B. McCormack said that in the last redistricting, registrars got the new maps on Sept. 28, 2001, and had to be ready for a March 5, 2002 primary election.

“It’s less time than we had last time, which is insufficient time,” she said.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said the governor wants new lines drawn “as soon as possible.”

“If 2008 is as soon as possible, then that’s great,” he said, “but we’ll strive for 2006.”

If 2008 is more achievable, “why are we spending all this money when in two years you’re going to go through this process again [when the 2010 census is taken]?” asked Kathay Feng, voting rights director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. She will begin work soon as executive director of California Common Cause, a citizens lobby with a long history of pushing to take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers.

In a big victory this month for Schwarzenegger, California Common Cause endorsed McCarthy’s redistricting bill -- despite the group’s opposition to a mid-decade redistricting.

“We have had some very productive discussions with Senate and Assembly leadership and also with the governor’s office,” Feng said.

“I think the final issue they will lock horns on is mid-decade redistricting.”