Since the 2002 elections, only one House seat has changed party control — the northern California seat that Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) won in 2006 by unseating then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R). And since then, GOP political clout has continued to weaken statewide. The state was notably absent from last November’s nationwide Republican sweep. Despite initial predictions of a close contest, GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman took only 41 percent of the vote against Democrat Jerry Brown even though she spent more than $160 million. Carly Fiorina (R) did not fare much better against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).
Based on the state’s spicy redistricting history, a plan drawn by the Supreme Court likely would jeopardize incumbents in both parties and create several swing districts in the 53-seat delegation. A court review could also weigh arguments of whether the commission has been sufficiently responsive to minority-group interests under the 1965 Voting Rights Act or relevant state laws.
The proposed map creates nine Hispanic-majority districts, short of the 11 that have been sought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and other advocacy groups. They have not revealed whether they plan to file their own legal challenges.
House Members in both parties already have been making plans for how they will respond to the expected redistricting lines. The commission released its tentative proposal in late July and invited public comment. For now, incumbent matchups are expected with at least two pairs of veteran Members: Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley, and Republican Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce in parts of Los Angeles and Orange County.
Other Members of both parties have not announced decisions on how they will handle potentially difficult options. They include Republican Reps. David Dreier and Dan Lungren, and Democratic Reps. Joe Baca, Janice Hahn, Laura Richardson and Linda Sánchez. Some of them could face other lawmakers, perhaps in primaries, depending on possible retirements and whether other Members decide to run.
Based on recent reports and other speculation, potential retirees include Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza and Republican Reps. Elton Gallegly and Jerry Lewis, plus other Members who have lost their political bases under the proposed map. The possible referendum and new Supreme Court map, of course, could overturn many of those tentative plans.
“The lines won’t stay the same,” a top aide to a veteran GOP Member said.
The redistricting dynamics, which have created a busy time for California political consultants, will cause turmoil for many House Members in any case. Republicans have only 14 safe seats under the new lines, leaving five swing districts, according to a lengthy analysis by Paul Mitchell of Sacramento-based Redistricting Partners and released by Brulte.
But Democrats have their own problems.
“Depending on how many incumbents decide to challenge each other and how many open seats are left, there is a possibility of 12 competitive primary elections, some as a result of four potential open seats,” Mitchell wrote. In addition to the heralded Berman-Sherman face-off, other potential Democratic matchups could include Hahn and Richardson, Cardoza and Rep. Jim Costa, and Sánchez and Rep. Grace Napolitano.
With Monday’s scheduled release of the final plan, the recent backroom maneuvering will become more public. But those actions could soon be overtaken by the possible referendum and court review.