Gerrymandering is a time-honored political tradition, but computers and racial vote rigging have made the process in CA so tilted in favor of the left that voters passed an initiative taking redistricting out of the hands of Sacramento in favor of a "non-partisan" citizens' group. Would you be surprised to learn that the CA Democrats' congressional delegation still managed to come out on top?
This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only — no aides allowed — and the mission was seemingly impossible.
In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.
The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”
In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.
The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.
When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party.
Amazing stuff. Here's my favorite detail.
For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.
When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.
The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.
Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.
Beyond this sort of chicanery - an Asian-American lobbyist from Sacramento via Idaho? - doesn't anyone wonder how any of this could be legal? There's a pretty significant amount of coordination described in the article. I doubt Wada's testimony was off-the-cuff. She no doubt worked with some to prepare it. I also doubt she worked for free. Who paid her (and the other consultants discussed in the article)? It's be nice to know.
The article notes that Republicans did not make a similar attempt to engage the redistricting commissioners (who, I hope, are feeling like idiots right now). At first, I thought "The Stupid Party strikes again." But, then, I realized that - even if CA Republicans were devious enough to try something like this - they would never get away with it. The LA Times would blacken the skies with headlines you could write in your sleep:
"GOP Schemes In Secret!"
"End Run Around The Will Of The Voters!"
"Front Groups Pose As Ordinary Voters!"
"Issa Led The Effort!"
"Funding For Massive Redistricting End Run Came From Kochs!"
"NAACP Calls On Boundaries To Be Thrown Out!"
"Holder Sues Redistricting Commission For Civil Rights Violations!"
Fill In Your Headline Here:_________________________
OK, so Republicans would be crazy to try a scheme like this, but that shouldn't stop them from banging the drum on the Democrats' coordinated end-run around the electorate. Democrat redistricting lawsuits are common in places like Texas. There's no reason, besides simply being too dumb to try, for CA Republicans to not do the same here.