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Tensions mount over who will draw California’s new political maps

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(LAT)

When California voters decided in 2008 to give a panel of citizens the power to draw the state’s political maps, the constitutional amendment ratified that November said the group of men and women chosen to do the job must be “reasonably representative of this state’s diversity.”

But as new commissioners are being chosen for the once-a-decade work of mapping congressional and legislative districts, even staunch supporters of the effort are baffled: In a state where 40% of the residents are Latino, how has the selection process yet to produce a single Latino commissioner?

What happens next could have a profound impact on the maps drawn next year and on the reputation of California’s nationally praised effort to instill fairness in a process once driven by political gamesmanship.

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Round 1 results: no Latino redistricting commissioners

The rules for picking the 14 members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission are supposed to appeal to those who want to minimize the role of partisan politics and those who want some semblance of party balance among the panel’s membership.

California’s state auditor, by law, oversees the community outreach effort to generate interest in filling out applications and then vets the applicants, narrowing the pool to 60 semifinalists. Legislative leaders can strike 24 names from the list (more on that in a moment) and from there, 14 commissioners are ultimately chosen.

The first eight were chosen randomly on July 2 — plastic balls swirled in a bingo cage by state Auditor Elaine Howle — and the newly seated commissioners must select the final six members no later than Aug. 15.

Diversity was a problem from the outset. Twice last year, Howle extended the deadline for applications. When it was over, only 12.5% of completed applications were from Californians who identified as Mexican American or Latino. Howle’s staff was able to boost Latino representation to 23% of the semifinalists.

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But the culling of the list by legislative leaders left only 20% of the finalists as Latino. How and why those legislators — Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Assembly GOP Leader Marie Waldron (R-Escondido) and Senate GOP Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) — made their choices is a mystery.

None of the four leaders contacted by The Times would divulge which applicants they had personally removed from consideration. And only Atkins would comment on the process.

“Per precedent, the list will not be desegregated,” Atkins said in a written statement about the 24 names she and her colleagues removed from consideration. “We are following the same process as 10 years ago, providing the state auditor with the names that remain after the strikes have been exercised.”

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, said that means the public will never know why Latino representation was such a low priority for Democratic and Republican leaders.

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“The legislative strikes could have increased the Latino percentage further,” he said. “Not only did they not do that, they made Latino underrepresentation worse. There were truly exceptional Latinos and Latinas removed by the Legislature.”

An eye-popping statistic shared by Mehta Stein: There was a 90.4% chance that a Latino would be selected in the random drawing for one of the first eight seats on the Citizens Redistricting Commission. And yet, none were chosen.

Six more commissioners. How many will be Latino?

Enormous pressure is now on the eight commissioners — three Democrats, three Republicans and two registered as “no party preference” — to make Latino representation the top priority for choosing the final six members of the panel.

“As the largest (and still growing) ethnic group in California, Latinos must have adequate representation on the Commission — state law and basic issues of equity demand it,” wrote the co-chairs of the California Latino Legislative Caucus on Friday.

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A similar demand will be made Monday by a coalition of government watchdog and civil rights groups that were involved in the passage of Proposition 11 in 2008. They argue that the ballot measure requires not just racial and ethnic diversity on the commission but that there also be diversity within those ranks of panel members.

The law, the advocates write, requires the six to-be-selected commissioners to “reflect the geographic, gender and political diversity of the Latino population.”

No doubt the redistricting commissioners chosen earlier this month knew their work would be closely scrutinized. But they probably assumed the stakes wouldn’t be quite so high for their very first decision.

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National lightning round

— As the spread of COVID-19 spiked across the nation, President Trump finally backed down and wore a face mask on Saturday. Is it too late for him to ease the health crisis’ culture war?

— Trump’s intervention in a criminal case connected to his own conduct, commuting the prison sentence of Roger Stone, is drawing fierce rebukes from Democrats and a few Republicans.

— Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is sharply defending his investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

— The president says he is ordering reexamination of the tax-exempt status of schools that provide “radical indoctrination” instead of education.

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Today’s essential California politics

— Although Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a statewide mask order, compliance in some California courthouses has been spotty, particularly among sheriff’s deputies, public defenders and court officials say.

— As many as 8,000 California prisoners could be released ahead of schedule in an unprecedented attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 inside state prisons, with more than half of the releases expected by the end of the month.

Lawsuit No. 86 filed against the Trump administration: California sued the federal government Thursday to challenge new visa rules that bar international students from staying in the U.S. if they take all of their classes online.

— Newsom and state officials said Thursday that California will shelter wildfire evacuees in hotels, require temperature checks and make other changes to protect people from COVID-19 as the state battles an increase in blazes during the pandemic.

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— California’s state housing agency did not conduct full inspections at more than half of the state’s mobile home parks between 2010 and 2019 and should improve oversight to protect residents, according to a new state audit.

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