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To adjust to population changes in the area and smooth awkwardly shaped districts, the commission’s new map could adversely affect several LA-area incumbents, including Richardson and the eventual winner of the July 12 special election in the neighboring 36th district.
“Everybody’s district is in jeopardy given how wide open this process is,” LA-based Democratic strategist Roy Behr said.
Incumbents are not the only ones hoping to influence the process. Groups gave presentations and submitted maps to the commission, including the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting — which seeks fair representation for the Asian American and Pacific Islander populations — and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a leading Latino legal civil rights organization.
The MALDEF maps caused considerable buzz, and an analysis by Sacramento-based Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell showed they created a combined 16 more majority-minority Congressional and state legislative districts than under the current maps.
The commissioners, who will take those and other maps submitted under advisement, were selected by independent auditors from the Bureau of State Audits. Some 30,000 Californians applied, and the auditors winnowed that down to 120 applicants who were interviewed in person — 40 Republicans, 40 Democrats and 40 “decline to state” voters.
Eight commissioners were selected and then picked the final six of the 14 members — five Republicans, five Democrats, four decline to state — who began meeting in January.
According to the new law, a special majority of at least three votes from each of the three sub-pools is required to approve the maps, and any subsequent legal challenge will bypass the usual appeals process and proceed directly to the state Supreme Court.
Redistricting Commissioner Maria Blanco, a Democrat, is an attorney from LA and currently serves as vice president of a community enhancement organization. In an interview with Roll Call, Blanco said the commissioners were pleasantly surprised by turnout at some two dozen public hearings, which she said sometimes lasted until close to midnight and included nearly 100 people who signed up to speak.
“Not only are our hearings public, but we are not allowed by law to have any meetings in private,” Blanco said. “Every single thing happens in public and webcast. I think that by and large the public is very encouraged by the fact that this is an open process.”
Blanco stressed that the commission cannot take factors such as where an incumbent lives, or keeping an incumbent with a particular community under advisement when drawing the map. She said that likely explains why the commission has heard directly from just one Member of Congress.
The most glaring partisan outcry in the newly independent process came in mid-March when the commission voted unanimously to use Q2 Data & Research as the technical map drawing consultant. Republicans decried Q2’s past work for Democrats, while Democrats argued that the Rose Institute, the only other organization to apply, was tied to Republicans.
“We have a very good team of technical experts that accompany us to all the hearings,” Blanco said. “After we finish a particular region we produce concept maps. ... They hear all the same things we hear, then we work with them afterward.”