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Republicans Ponder Putting New California Map to the Voters

With the nonpartisan California redistricting commission scheduled to complete its work Monday, state Republicans are seriously weighing whether to seek a referendum that could throw out the results and force the state Supreme Court to draw lines for next year’s election. The new plan could jeopardize as many as a half-dozen of Republicans’ 19 House seats in the California delegation.

“It’s hard to believe that the Supreme Court can draw worse lines for Republicans,” said Jim Brulte, the former Senate GOP leader who remains active in state politics as a partner with California Strategies, a public-affairs firm.

But he added that Republicans are divided on how to proceed and that some may place a higher priority in overturning proposed lines for the state Senate, which could result in the GOP’s loss of veto-power leverage with one-third of Senate seats. “They would have to move quickly,” said Brulte, who is not involved in any possible redistricting challenge.

The results of the commission, created by voter approval of separate referendums in 2008 and 2010, have generated considerable discussion in recent months. But little public attention has been paid to the prospect of an additional referendum that could throw out the commission-drawn lines and the possible consequences.

To challenge the redistricting plan, petitioners would need to file more than 500,000 signatures by Nov. 15, according to a timetable prepared by Dave Gilliard, a prominent Sacramento-based Republican consultant. Each of the four redistricting plans — for districts in Congress, the state Senate, the Assembly and the tax-levying Board of Equalization — would require a separate petition.

Once signatures are verified, the commission plans would be on hold until after the 2012 election, Gilliard wrote in his analysis. “The Supreme Court hires special masters to draw lines for the 2012 election,” he wrote. If the referendum passes, “the Court lines stay in effect for the decade. If the referendum fails, the commission lines go into effect in 2014.” The referendum could be next June or November, California sources said.

Other GOP insiders said that they have heard that Republican political powerhouse Karl Rove might support such a referendum. But Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the Rove-backed American Crossroads group, said he has heard nothing about a Crossroads-backed lawsuit or referendum.

And a House Republican campaign source said he has heard “very little discussion” of a legal challenge to the redistricting plan. In contrast to the court suit that Illinois Republicans have filed against the plan drawn by that state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, the GOP strategist said, “it would be harder for California Republicans to challenge a nonpartisan commission.”

Despite their prospective loss of several House seats in California, some Republicans are relieved that the results won’t be worse in the Democratic-tilting mega-state. They note that the bipartisan redistricting plan approved in 2001, which protected the political status quo, helped Republicans prevent the alternative of losing as many as five seats if Democrats had drawn that plan.

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