Will GOP be fooled again by California Redistricting Commission?

Whittier Daily News | July 13, 2019

There’s a long list of reasons why California Republicans were decimated in the 2018 midterm elections.

The most overlooked: Democrats got a nine-year head start.

In December 2009, the California State Auditor formally opened the application process for members of the public to serve on the state’s inaugural independent redistricting commission. That’s when shrewd Democrats went to work gaming the redistricting process.

Created by Proposition 11, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission was the response to a half-century of Democratic gerrymandering. In 1981, Democrat Congressman Phillip Burton’s “vicious” gerrymandering sliced and diced ethnic communities to favor Democratic establishment candidates. Burton himself described his plan as a “contribution to modern art.”

Democrat Michael Berman, the guru of gerrymandering, found creative ways to slash the power of Hispanic voters to preserve his brother, Howard’s, congressional seat. Other Democrats were so fearful of Berman’s gerrymandering, they paid $20,000 in “protection money” disguised as consulting fees.

“$20,000 is nothing to keep your seat,” Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of Orange County admitted. “I spend $2 million every election. If my colleagues are smart, they’ll pay their $20,000, and Michael will draw the district they can win in.”

2011 was supposed to be different. The new independent redistricting panel promised to end partisan gerrymandering by taking politics out of the decennial process. Instead of politicians picking their voters, the job would fall to citizen commissioners.

“The original goal of the redistricting reform movement was to select members who did not have significant past partisan interests,” Dan Schnur, a former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, explained of the process.

But, Democrat political operatives weren’t about to let good government groups spoil their once-in-a-decade fun. Ghost authored by political data consultant Paul Mitchell, the 2011 maps helped gut California’s GOP congressional delegation from 19 members in 2011 to just 7 as of today.

A 2011 investigation by the left-leaning ProPublica news outlet revealed “how Democrats fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.” Democrat political operatives artfully manipulated the California Citizens Redistricting Commission into drawing legislative and congressional boundaries that favored Democrats. One Democrat Congresswoman even “used taxpayer-funded staff and resources in her campaign to manipulate California’s independent redistricting commission.”

“The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players,” ProPublica reporters Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson uncovered. “To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.”

In addition to organizing astro-turf organizations to sway draft boundaries, Democrats recruited progressive activists to serve as members of the commission. Most egregiously, redistricting commissioner Gabino T. Aguirre made multiple political campaign contributions to Democratic candidates; hid those donations from state auditors and the public; violated the commission’s code of conduct; and concealed his blatant conflict-of-interest in voting on maps submitted by a left-wing interest group with which he was directly affiliated.

“Commissioner Gabino Aguirre managed to obtain a Senate district for his friend, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams, in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties,” observed Tony Quinn, editor  of the California Target Book. “Aguirre made a campaign contribution to Williams after he was in the running for membership on the commission, and then helped craft the new Williams district without disclosing his contribution to anyone.”

Jeanne Raya, another member of the redistricting commission who advanced Democrats’ interests, never disclosed her campaign contributions to a powerful political action committee representing the insurance industry.

And most Republicans just sat by and watched.

“The issue that really galls me is that Republicans can cry foul all they want, but legislative leadership made it very clear that they did not want any Republican consultants to engage on redistricting,” Matt Rexroad, one of the few Republican consultants engaged in the 2011 redistricting process, wrote in his post-mortem analysis.

If Republicans are to avoid another redistricting rout, it starts by copying the Democrats’ playbook of recruiting conservatives to serve as commissioners. The Citizens Redistricting Commission is accepting applications until August 9.

Shawn Steel, a former California Republican Party chair, is California’s committeeman for the Republican National Committee.

View Original Publication: Whittier Daily News