The Farm Team: Districts Gerrymandered to Favor Incumbents

Posted July 28, 2008 at 4:27pm

Second in a four-part series.

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

That cliché rings particularly true in California politics, where the state Legislature is filled with ambitious politicians who have few places to go when term-limited except Congress, whose Members in turn generally have no intention of going anywhere — ever.

[IMGCAP(1)]Redistricting could grease the wheels for some of California’s Democrats and Republicans interested in federal office, with the next remap due to be implemented for the 2012 elections.

But the desire for self-preservation nearly a decade ago caused members of both political parties — both on Capitol Hill and in the California state house — to engage in the rarity of working together to protect as many existing legislative and House seats as possible. Thus, even the decennial redrawing of district maps is no guarantee that an aspiring Congressman will find a particularly easy path to Washington, D.C.

One potential wild card affecting all of this are whether a Democrat or Republican succeeds Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in 2010. He is himself termed out and possibly considering a run for Senate. Another wild card is the fate of a November ballot initiative that would remove from the Legislature the power to draw state Assembly and state Senate districts.

Allen Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant based in Los Angeles, said the easiest way to figure out who might run for Congress in the short term is to look at a map of state legislative districts and overlay it with the House map. Hoffenblum tracks Congressional and state legislative seats via his annual “California Target Book.”

“Nine times out of 10, it will be a local state assemblyman or state Senator [running for Congress] — due to term limits,” Hoffenblum said.

Along those lines, Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D) future replacement in the Democratic-leaning 1st district could be state Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D) or state Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D). Rep. Wally Herger’s (R) eventual successor in the Republican-leaning 2nd district could be state Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa (R) or state Sen. Sam Aanestad (R).

In the Republican-leaning 3rd district, Rep. Dan Lungren (R) was elected to replace Doug Ose (R), who retired in 2004 after serving three terms. Ose ran for the House this year in the open 4th district, but he lost in the primary.

But should the 3rd district open again, Ose might try and get his old job back. Former state Sen. Rico Oller (R), who sought the 3rd district in 2004 and briefly ran for the 4th district this year, might also run again in the 3rd, as might 2004 primary candidate Mary Ose (R), a businesswoman and the former Congressman’s sister.

In the open, solidly conservative 4th district being vacated by Rep. John Doolittle (R), state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) is running this year against retired Air Force officer and former police administrator Charlie Brown (D).

McClintock actually represents a Southern California legislative seat, but his high statewide name recognition and strong relationship with Golden State Republicans make him a good political fit for this suburban Sacramento district. Brown nearly knocked off Doolittle in 2006, but his liberal positions on key issues will prove difficult this time around, as McClintock does not carry the Congressman’s ethical baggage.

However, should Brown upset McClintock, look for state Assemblyman Ted Gaines (R), Oller, and possibly state Sen. Dave Cox (R), just to name a few, to take a crack at this seat in 2010. Gaines explored running this cycle, and Oller launched his campaign, only to abort it when McClintock entered the race.

In the Democratic-leaning 5th district, Rep. Doris Matsui’s (D) future successor could be state Assemblyman Dave Jones (D), former state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D) or Sacramento City Councilman Rob Fong (D).

In the Democratic-leaning 6th district, Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s (D) eventual successor could be Berg or state Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D). State Sen. Carole Migden (D) is ambitious and might be a good fit, geographically. But ethical baggage and a reputation for being difficult to deal with could prove too much for her to overcome, should she ever decide to seek a Congressional seat.

In the Democratic-leaning 7th district, Rep. George Miller (D) doesn’t appear to be considering retirement. But if he did, state Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D), state Sen. Tom Torlakson (D), or Wiggins might be considered as potential replacements.

In Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D) San Francisco-based district, state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D), state Assemblyman Mark Leno (D) and state Sen. Leland Yee (D) are all viable successors.

But San Francisco’s Democratic machine has long controlled access to the seat. Currently, that machine is helmed by Pelosi — although before her it was run by the Burton family: brothers and former Reps. Phillip Burton and John Burton, and ex-Rep. Sala Burton, Philip Burton’s wife. Sala was elected in a special election to replace Phillip, who died in 1983; Sala, before she died of cancer in 1987, anointed Pelosi as her successor.

Pelosi won the seat in a June 1987 special election.

In the solidly Democratic 9th district, Rep. Barbara Lee (D) might be replaced one day by state Assemblyman Sandré Swanson (D) or state Sen. Don Perata (D), the President Pro Tem of the California Senate and arguably the most senior Democratic official of consequence in state government.

In the Democratic-leaning 10th district, Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s future successor could be state Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D) and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier (D); or Torlakson. In the Republican-leaning 11th district, freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney’s (D) success this November against former state Assemblyman Dean Andal (R) could determine the future of this seat for years to come.

If McNerney holds his ground, the door will be open for other Republicans to knock him off in succeeding elections, although the difficulty of the task will likely increase. Among the Republicans who might try are state Assemblymen Greg Aghazarian and Guy Houston, and state Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill.

If McNerney loses, Democrats might try to recruit state Sen. Michael Machado in 2010. Machado is viewed as a conservative, and in fact Democrats had previously tried to recruit him to challenge former Rep. Richard Pombo (R), whom McNerney knocked off in 2006.

In the solidly Democratic 12th district, freshman Rep. Jackie Speier (D) won a special election earlier this year over nominal opposition. Should she ever vacate her seat to seek higher office, which is possible given her 2006 run for lieutenant governor, look for Yee to consider replacing her, as he briefly considered joining her in the special election campaign to replace Rep. Tom Lantos (D), who died of cancer in February.

Though Rep. Pete Stark (D) has given no such indication, he’ll turn 77 in November and could be close to retiring from the Democratic-leaning 13th district. Should he choose to call it quits anytime soon, Democratic state Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi and Assemblyman Alberto Torrico might consider a bid, as might Perata or state Sen. Ellen Corbett (D).

In the Democratic-leaning 14th district, there are also state legislators who would immediately be seen as natural fits, should Rep. Anna Eshoo (D) decide to move on. Among them are Democratic state Assemblymen John Laird and Gene Mullin and Assemblywoman Sally Lieber; and Democratic state Sens. Elaine Alquist and Joseph Simitian.

In the solidly Democratic 15th district, Rep. Mike Honda (D) is serving his fourth term and doesn’t appear to be headed out the door. But if he did retire, it could be another opportunity for Alquist, Lieber and Simitian — or for state Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr. (D).

In the Democratic-leaning 16th district, currently held by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D), a future run for Congress could be in the cards for state Assemblyman Joe Coto (D), as well as Alquist, Corbett and Torrico. In the Democratic-leaning 17th district, Rep. Sam Farr’s (D) future successors might include state Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D) or Laird.

In the competitive 18th district, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D) has yet to be legitimately challenged since winning an open seat in 2002. A lack of resources on the part of both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party — not to mention rising Democratic registration in the Golden State — means Cardoza is safe once again this cycle.

But in future elections, when Republicans once again have the resources to go hunting, they might try and recruit state Sen. Jeff Denham (R) to challenge Cardoza. Should Cardoza vacate his seat for any reason, state Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D) is at least geographically positioned to succeed him.

In the Republican-leaning 19th district, Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines (R) is already viewed as a potential successor to Rep. George Radanovich (R). If that happened, it wouldn’t be the first time, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy served as the GOP leader in the state Assembly before advancing to Congress in the 22nd district previously held by then-Rep. Bill Thomas (R).

Cogdill and state Assemblyman Tom Berryhill (R) might also prove to be a good fit for the 19th district.

The slightly competitive 20th district might be another case where the Republicans could be competitive once they get their act together enough to target Democratic House incumbents beyond the obvious. Rep. Jim Costa (D) held off state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R) by 6 points in an open-seat 20th district election in 2004.

However, conservative Democrats have been successful at winning the state legislative seats that correspond with the 20th district — despite the fact that these legislative seats were viewed as potentially GOP-friendly when originally drawn. Among the Democrats who hold these seats are state Sen. Dean Florez and termed-out state Assemblywoman Nicole Parra.

State Assemblyman Juan Arambula is another Democrat who is geographically positioned to run for Costa’s seat should it ever open.

In the Republican-leaning 21st district, Rep. Devin Nunes (R) is serving just his third term and is unlikely to retire in the near future. But if he did, his seat might look attractive to Ashburn and state Assemblyman Bill Maze (R).

The solidly Republican 22nd district will likely be held by McCarthy for quite awhile. Elected in 2006, the former state assemblyman and district director for Thomas has House leadership ambitions. But if he did vacate his seat unexpectedly, it might be a good fit for state Assemblywoman Jean Fuller (R) — or Ashburn, who considered running for the 22nd district in 2006.