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Gerrymandering 102: Going around the voters!

Today, the New York-based nonprofit investigative foundation ProPublica released findings from their investigation of the efforts of California’s congressional democrats to influence and manipulate the independent citizen’s panel that drew California’s new political districts (the full report is here). The ProPublica investigation was “… a months-long reconstruction of the Democrats’ stealth redistricting strategy, relying on internal memos, emails, interviews and map analysis.” The effort effectively circumvented the intent of reformers and the will of California’s voters to remove political redistricting from the control of party bosses.

California voters, who have grown tired of years of legislative partisan gridlock (the kind that we are just STARTING to see nationally :-) “California leads the nation” – even if it’s straight to hell, sometimes!) took away the power to redistrict from the legislature in the elections of 2008 (Proposition 11) and 2010 and turned the redistricting job over to a 14-member panel of citizens.

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

“Democrats met behind closed doors at the party’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, hired consultants, drew their ideal districts and presented maps to the panel through proxies who never disclosed their party ties or “public interest” groups created specifically for the purpose. In many cases, the panel responded by doing just what the Democrats wanted.”

Equal time,” Democrats…. Remember? :-)

“Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to D.C.,” crowed one internal memo. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Redistricting of electoral districts occurs once every 10 years, after the U.S. census, to reflect shifts in population. Although members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission declined to speak with ProPublica, citing unresolved lawsuits :-) (“Why are there so many lawyers in California?”), several said that they were aware of efforts to deceive them! ProPublica said that the cloaked Democratic strategy was particularly effective in Northern California.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel states, as an example:

According to an internal memo, Democrats believed they could save every incumbent if no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and if a new San Joaquin County district pulled in liberal voters from eastern Contra Costa County to ensure its Democratic majority.

The party envisioned the new San Joaquin-Contra Costa seat would go to Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Pleasanton Democrat who was at risk of being drawn out of his district. His old gerrymandered seat straddled the Altamont Pass and no one expected it would survive redistricting.

To counter a GOP push for a more conservative district carved from Central Valley counties, McNerney hired Sacramento mapping consultant Paul Mitchell.

ProPublica linked Mitchell to a Facebook page for a group called OneSanJoaquin, where residents could download maps and sample testimony. Formed in April as the mapping got under way, OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit but it isn’t registered as such in any state.

Transcripts show that at least a dozen people submitted to the commission testimony originating with OneSanJoaquin, although it is unclear whether the origins were known to the commission or how much they influenced the final map.

In any case, the commission adopted maps similar to those OneSanJoaquin sought. And within days, McNerney announced he would move to San Joaquin County and seek re-election in a district where he will enjoy a far more favorable party registration lead than his old seat.

If the 2010 election were rerun in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis obtained by ProPublica.

“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney made the announcement. “Wow! How did he do that?”

McNerney was unable to be reached by the Santa Cruz Sentinel for comment.

The Chairman of California’s Republican Party, Tom Del Beccaro, cited the ProPublica report as he called for an immediate investigation of improper partisan influence.

“The redistricting process was hijacked,” he said. “No fair-minded person can now say the process or the result was fair.”

Can you understand why lawyers do so well here? :-)

-Bill at

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