2 locals vie for Citizens Redistricting Commission seats

Two area residents are among the 120 candidates vying for a spot on California's new 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission, which will be responsible in the coming year for redrawing the state's Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization district lines.

LaDrena Dansby, a civil engineer from La Cañada Flintridge, and Martha Jimenez, a civil-rights attorney and public-policy expert who resides in Glendale, advanced last month to the third phase of the year-long application process.

The 120 finalists, which include 40 Democrats, 40 Republicans and 40 independents, are currently being interviewed by the state's three-member Applicant Review Panel, which will narrow the pool to 60 candidates by Oct. 1. Live video feeds of the interviews are viewable on the Citizens Redistricting Commission website, http://www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.

"The panel has reached a significant milestone in the process of forming our state's first independent citizens' redistricting commission," California State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a statement. "As the November 2010 election approaches, we are reminded that the way our legislative and Board of Equalization districts have historically been drawn will soon change."

Every 10 years, following the federal census, states are required to redraw the boundaries of all political districts in order to reflect the most recent population data. The goal is to create districts with comparable population counts, ensuring that residents in each district are equally represented.

In California, the redrawing of district lines was previously done by elected state officials. But the process was manipulated and the boundaries gerrymandered to ensure heavily Democrat or heavily Republican districts, thereby protecting incumbents on election day.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission was born out of Proposition 11, also known as the Voters FIRST Act, a ballot initiative passed in November 2008 that transferred the once-a-decade responsibility of redrawing district lines from state elected officials to an independent, non-partisan body of private citizens.

"It is a big role," said Margarita Fernandez, spokeswoman for the State Auditor's Office, of the commissioners. "It is certainly shifting the responsibility of who draws the lines for the Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts. The work that they do will be in place for the next 10 years."

In order to be eligible for the commission, an individual must have been continuously registered in California with the same political party, or with no political party, for the last five years, and have voted in at least two of the last three statewide general elections. In addition, commission candidates can not have run for, or served in, congressional or state office, nor can they have worked for somebody who has run, or served in, state office. Moreover, they can not have contributed more than $2,000 to any California congressional, state or local candidate.

The preliminary phase, which started in December, attracted nearly 30,000 applicants, Fernandez said. The final 14 members will be announced by Dec. 31.

The commission could drastically reshape the political landscape in California, insiders said. Commissioners will have to adhere to specific criteria as outlined by Proposition 11, including drawing districts that preserve the geographic integrity and "compactness" of cities and counties. In additions, the law states that when at all possible, each Senate district shall be comprised of two whole, adjacent Assembly districts, and each Board of Equalization shall be comprised of 10 whole, adjacent Senate districts.

"There will be a significant impact after these lines are gone," said state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge). "The districts will significantly change."

For example, the 44th District, which Portantino currently represents, includes portions of the cities of Monrovia and Arcadia. The new criteria may dictate, however, that those portions of his district be incorporated into the 59th District, Portantino said.

"[The redistricting], in combination with the open primary, is going to make 2012 a very interesting year," Portantino said.

Jimenez, who currently serves as director of legal, health and social services for Los Angeles County Sup. Gloria Molina, acknowledged that the formation of the commission has been highly controversial. She added, however, that the process is allowing citizens the opportunity to reexamine how they are represented at the state level.

And while commissioners will have to weigh multiple, complicated factors as they go about recreating voting maps, the result will be fairer, and competitive, districts, Jimenez said.

"The key point is not to prejudge the process, but more importantly, as it is being done now, trying to select people who are fair and impartial as possible," Jimenez.

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