California’s voter-approved rules governing district drawing may change Davis’ representation in the state legislature and the House of Representatives by the 2012 election.
New procedures regarding redistricting, combined with population shifts from the Bay Area to the Central Valley, could potentially place Davis in an entirely new congressional and state senate district once the new lines are completed.
“There’s a clear shifting of population from the coastal counties to the inland counties,” said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, which analyzes state races. “The inland areas, particularly Sacramento, are going to get more representation.”
California voters shifted the task of district drawing from the state legislature to the Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent 14-member commission created by Proposition 11 in 2008. Voters expanded the commission’s power last November, adding congressional districts to the commission’s list of duties.
Supporters of the commission sought to prevent the state legislature from gerrymandering – intentionally manipulating district lines to control constituencies.
“The idea is to have districts designed to reflect the community, rather than the politicians,” said Stanley Forbes, a member of the independent commission and former Davis city councilmember.
Forbes, who co-owns the Avid Reader in Sacramento, said the commission seeks to be as transparent as possible throughout the redistricting process.
“We want the public to participate as much as possible, and we’re going to try to find as many ways to help them participate,” Forbes said.
Forbes declined to comment on individual districts and said the commission cannot talk about redistricting outside of the meetings.
“You don’t want to have the sense that there are any backroom conversations going on,” Forbes said.
Quinn said the current 1st Congressional District, which spans from Davis to California’s northwest border, violates the new commission’s mandate that districts must preserve communities of interest. According to the language of Prop. 11, these communities are defined as contiguous populations with “common social and economic interests.”
“You can almost certainly count that Davis will not be in the 1st Congressional District,” Quinn said.
Such a shift could potentially place Davis in California’s 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River). Davis currently borders Lungren’s district, which is adjacent to South Davis and spans eastward.
Quinn also said the 5th State Senate District, which spans from Davis to parts of Stockton, will likely change as a result of the new rules.
Longtime Democratic strategist Bob Mulholland said that while districts will surely change once the commission draws the lines, it is too early to determine who will be Davis’ new representatives.
“Redistricting comes once every 10 years,” Mulholland said. “The only thing we know for certain is that under the California constitution, the 1st Congressional District starts at the Oregon border.”
The commission’s public meetings, which will be held Aug. 1 to 15, are geared to foster public comment on their communities, as well as input on the district maps. The commission must complete state districts by Aug. 15.
Local area data used for redistricting has not yet been issued to California. However, U.S. Census figures show that for the first time in state history, California has not grown enough to add an additional seat to its congressional delegation. The state only failed to gain a seat once before, when Congress in 1920 could not agree on a method for reapportionment.
The independent commission is part of a confluence of election changes posing difficulties for incumbents, who are typically re-elected at high rates. California’s new open “jungle” primary system, where the top two vote-getters in state primaries advance to the general election regardless of party, also poses a threat that incumbents will face challenges from upstarts within their own party.
UC Davis political science professor emeritus Ed Constantini said in the past, legislators from both parties often used redistricting and incumbent protection to reach political compromise. The independent commission, he said, will reduce the state legislature’s effectiveness and ability to gain policy expertise – a problem worsened by the legislature’s term limits.
“If they totally ignore incumbency, given the fact that we already have term limits, it’s going to make things worse [for the state legislature] regardless of party,” Constantini said.
Moreover, Constantini said population shifts toward the more-conservative Central Valley are unlikely to result in massive gains for the Republican Party.
“The last election kind of reinforces that California is a pretty blue state,” he said.
JUSTIN HO can be reached at email@example.com.