Months of meetings led to the Monday, Aug. 15, final vote of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which voters approved via a 2008 ballot initiative to redraw the state’s Congress, Assembly and state Senate political boundaries following the 2010 U.S. Census.
Hundreds of citizens originally applied to be on the commission, which in the end was comprised of 14 people. The first eight were chosen randomly after the state auditor and legislators narrowed down the pool to 60 and 36 qualified applicants, respectively. Those eight citizens selected the next six commissioners.
All but one of the 14 voted in favor of the new boundaries this week. But the lone dissenting vote has led some groups to claim partisan wheeling and dealing played too large a role in the supposedly nonpartisan process.
“This commission broke the law,” said Republican Michael Ward, the only commissioner to vote against the new lines, at a press conference Monday. "This commission simply traded the partisan, backroom gerrymandering by the Legislature for partisan, backroom gerrymandering by average citizens,” he was reported as saying.
Despite an apparent dismissal of Ward’s claim by commission chairman and fellow Republican Vincent Brabba, Ward’s charges look to be the groundwork for what could become a legal or ballot-box challenge of the commission’s work.
“… Dr. Michael Ward not only confirmed that assessment (of an unfair process) but established motive,” said California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, in a statement. “At this point, every California citizen should want the commission to vote down the maps."
According to some analysis of registered voter demographics, Democrats could gain enough seats via redistricting to win a two-thirds party majority in the Senate. Such a margin, if achieved in both the Senate and Assembly, would allow Democrats to pass statewide tax increases without requiring any Republican votes.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also issued a statement to the Los Angeles Times suggesting it might challenge the state Senate and congressional boundaries, because an alleged failure to create certain Latino-majority districts could violate the Voting Rights Act.
But Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California said this week that fears of Democratic gains might not pan out as some Republicans anticipate.
“Because the new Democratic-leaning seats are often competitive, the benefit for Democrats could easily prove elusive,” McGhee wrote.
He also analyzed the maps as being drawn fairly and said they avoided overt partisan gerrymandering.
“The plans once again include a larger number of competitive seats than under the maps from 2001,” McGhee wrote this week. “… (Though) compared to the June 10 draft, there are five fewer competitive seats in the Assembly, the same number in the Senate, and one additional seat in the House (of Representatives).”
Locally, Tracy and Mountain House will find themselves with new voting neighbors and new elected officials if legal challenges or voter initiatives don’t alter the lay of the political landscape.
Tracy and Mountain House will share the 13th Assembly District with Stockton and the majority of the San Joaquin Delta region.
All of San Joaquin County will be part of the 5th Senate District, which also includes Modesto in Stanislaus County and Galt in Sacramento County.
And in Congress, Tracy will now be part of the fighting 10th, which includes Manteca, Ripon and Escalon, as well as all of Stanislaus County. Mountain House, meanwhile, will be part of the 9th Congressional District, along with Stockton, Lodi, Lathrop, Brentwood, Oakley and part of Antioch.
Who’s running where?
Politicians are already jockeying for a place in the newly created districts.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, the 60-year-old three-term incumbent Democrat who now represents Tracy and Mountain House, has already announced he will run to represent the 9th District in 2012. McNerney has stated his intention to move from Pleasanton to San Joaquin County prior to his campaign.
Ricky Gill, a 24-year-old native of Lodi with a long list of accomplishments, has said he will seek to represent the Republican Party in the 9th District in an effort to bring homegrown representation to the area.
The fortunes for Tracy’s congressional district are less set in stone.
The first person to officially announce he will run for Congress here is Democrat Mike Barkley of Manteca.
The lawyer, certified public accountant and software engineer’s biggest priority is to repeal the 2nd Amendment — the right to bear arms — in exchange for allowing Congress to regulate firearm ownership. He said recurrent multi-person shootings, most recently one in Tuscon, Ariz., in which a congresswoman was nearly killed, inspire him to seek more aggressive gun control.
“The only place you can do it is in Congress,” Barkley said. “These things take a long time, but somebody has to start it.”
While Barkley admits his gun control quest could take at least a century, he also embraces a host of other issues, including growing jobs by retooling free trade agreements and forcing the government to contract those that employ only in-country workers; Medicare for everyone; balancing the federal budget through targeted tax increases and spending cuts; and improving the storage capacity of California’s water system.
It’s not certain who his fellow competitors will be, though Barkley expects Stockton native and Democrat Jose Hernandez — a former NASA astronaut with various technical degrees — to throw his hat into the ring. Hernandez had made no formal announcement as of Monday, Aug. 15 .
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican who already represents a portion of Stanislaus County in Congress, did not commit to running for a certain district earlier this week. However, he affirmed Tuesday that he planned to represent the Central Valley, which could make him a 10th District contender.
“I look forward to continuing to represent the people and communities of the valley,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a Democrat whose Congressional district includes parts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, has repeatedly said he intends to run close to home and will likely not be in the 2012 running for the 10th District. He also is reportedly mulling retirement.
Calls to Cardoza’s office seeking comment on Monday were not immediately returned.
Another sitting politician who will make a run at a new office is Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat who has represented Tracy, parts of Stockton and San Joaquin County the past five years in the Assembly. She confirmed Wednesday, Aug. 16, that she would seek the 5th Senate District seat in 2012.
Galgiani conceded she’d face plenty of challenges if elected again, she was at least pleased with the redistricting commission drew San Joaquin County into a single Senate seat.
“It’s a difficult time to serve, but that’s sometimes when you can get the most accomplished,” said the Stockton native. “I was elated to see that this Senate district will give me an opportunity to continue the work and the projects that I’ve been working on the past five years.”
She said guiding the state’s high-speed rail project over hurdles — including escalating cost estimates and conflicts about the project’s leadership — is one of those priorities, as is protecting agricultural land and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Galgiani did not have an officially committed opponent, though some political insiders have suggested Republicans Tom Berryhill, a state senator, or Kristin Olson, who serves in the Assembly, might toss their hats into the 5th District race.
• Keep turning to the Tracy Press for ongoing coverage of the people seeking to represent Tracy and Mountain House in the Assembly, state Senate and Congress. • This story was updated Wednesday, Aug. 17.