Redistricting in California is making its debut in sunshine instead of the customary darkness of Sacramento’s backrooms. While there appears to be plenty of valid suspicion that the political agendas of members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission influenced the nuance of map making, there is no doubt that citizens have been better served by taking the politicians out of the self-dealing position of carving up the state for their purposes.
For Republicans, while there are some valid complaints about the final maps, the commission process surely saved them from a devastating gerrymander that could have been imposed by the state’s Democratic legislative majority and Democratic governor.
After a decade of seeing only one seat change party hands among the state’s 53-seat House delegation, Republicans will surely have to defend some home turf and will likely suffer a net loss in seats. But there will finally be opportunity to challenge some old Democratic warhorses as well.
Take for example the seat where Rep. John Garamendi (D) will attempt to extend his lifelong career in office. This district, which mixes Bay Area suburbs with rice-producing counties to the northeast, is ripe for a bright young candidate. GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina beat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer within these boundaries last year.
The same can be said for the turf held by longtime Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, whose Central Coast district is extremely competitive and could net a GOP victory. Republicans also have a strong chance of unseating Rep. Joe Baca from his Inland Empire seat.
Additionally, open seats in Kings and Riverside counties are toss-ups that — with good candidates — could yield more pick-ups.
What will it take to win these competitive seats? We will have to do the hard work of becoming a more competitive party. We have to expand our message to Latinos and field candidates who can compete in marginal districts. These new maps will finally force to the surface Republican candidates in California who can compete and win in swing districts.
Since 1992, Republican voter registration has fallen by 8 percent. Recently released Field Poll data make the point even clearer. At the same time, our party message is not resonating with younger voters as the GOP is a graying electorate. More than half of current California Republican voters are over the age of 50, up from 40 percent in 1992.
Republican registration in the Latino community has nearly stagnated since 1992, growing only one percent at a time when the state’s Hispanic voters doubled during that time from 10 percent to 22 percent.
In a state that has dipped to only 31 percent GOP registration, providing more opportunities to be competitive is a positive development. We have been slowly withering to a darker shade of blue here, but shedding the gerrymander of the past decade gives us the chance to adapt and learn to win again.
Rob Stutzman is president of Stutzman Public Affairs and a Republican political consultant based in Sacramento.