Dan Walters: California Democrats didn't cheat on redistricting, but they played politics well
By Dan Walters
The Sacramento Bee
Published: Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
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California political junkies are all atwitter about an article on the website ProPublica about a clandestine campaign by Democratic apparatchiks to influence the state's redistricting commission congressional map-drawing.
Republicans are crying foul, while Democrats say it's pure fiction.
Republican state chairman Tom Del Beccaro claims that the article "systematically lays out the Democrats' manipulation of what should have been an open and transparent process. It also demonstrated exactly how the redistricting maps were corrupted by partisan activists working in cooperation with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee."
But his Democratic counterpart, John Burton, insists, "The article charging California Democrats with manipulating California's Redistricting Commission is pure fantasy," adding, "Sadly, ProPublica chose to recycle talking points from the Republican-funded Rose Institute without checking with the Democratic Party."
Both party leaders are blowing smoke.
The article offers too much documentation to be "pure fantasy." The Democrats had opposed an independent commission to replace a Democratic-dominated Legislature in redrawing legislative and congressional districts, while most Republicans supported it.
However, once it was done, via two voter- approved initiatives, Democrats looked for ways to influence the line-drawing. In other words, they practiced politics.
Del Beccaro denounces it as "manipulation," but it was just heads-up, professional politics, and he should be castigating those in his own party for falling asleep at the switch.
That said, the authors miss, or gloss over, a couple of salient points.
While they concentrate on a couple of Democrats whose seats were protected by intervention of some clandestine front groups and, perhaps, the gullibility of commission members, they don't mention the plan's adverse effects on other Democrats, such as forcing a high-octane shootout looming between Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in Los Angeles County.
More importantly, the article doesn't mention that the Democrats' creation of "community of interest" front groups could be effective only because the 14-member commission, as chosen by a convoluted process, was hypersensitive to that approach.
The Democratic members of the commission tended to be partisans, its Republicans tended to be of the go-along variety, and the supposed independents turned out to be mostly liberals inclined to draw districts that favor ethnic and cultural enclaves.
That tendency – coupled with underlying demographic and voter registration trends – had the combined effect of not only protecting most incumbent Democrats but giving them a chance to make congressional gains.