Will new congressional districts squeeze out California Republicans?
I'm not enough of a politico to pay close attention to redistricting, but I found one thing fascinating about the congressional district maps released Friday by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. According to an elections specialist interviewed by The Times' Richard Simon, the lines proposed by the commission could cost Republicans four of the 19 seats they now hold in the state's 53-member congressional delegation.
Elected officials from the two parties typically have controlled redistricting efforts, and they drew lines frequently to protect incumbents and advance party agendas. This go-round, however, the process is in the hands of a group of 14 citizens (and the experts they hired). If all goes according to plan, the changes they impose will be more attributable to demographic shifts than partisan maneuvering.
The most obvious demographic change over the last decade has been the growth in the Latino population, which increased from 32% of the state's residents in 2000 to 38% in 2010. Here's a more striking statistic: 90% of the state's population growth over the last decade came from Latinos.
Republicans have been poorly received among Latinos in California since Republican Gov. Pete Wilson championed Proposition 187. But the growth in their numbers doesn't necessarily explain why the GOP could have trouble holding on to four of its seats in the House. Another factor could simply be the shift away from political operatives drawing district lines.
In previous decades, incumbents from both parties had an incentive to pack districts with voters from one party or the other instead of creating competitive districts. Such concentration, however, can help dispersed minority groups win more races. The commission, having less interest in concentrating Republicans into easily winnable districts, may have diluted GOP voting power enough to help the Democratic majority win more seats.
Oh, and yes, the number of voters who've registered as Republicans has dropped steadily, from 35% in 2003 to just under 31% this year.
Such a dramatic dilution of voting power through redistricting would probably draw a lawsuit if it affected a minority group. Republicans, however, aren't a protected class. Besides, the final maps have yet to be drawn, and the next congressional election won't be held for almost a year and a half. The way the economy is going -- and with President Obama's poll numbers -- California Republicans could easily wind up gaining seats.
-- Jon Healey