This year Californians will start seeing the effect of an initiative passed four years ago. That’s when voters decided to take the job of drawing state legislative districts away from the legislature and give the power to an Independent Citizens group. The result may mean a major shift of power in Sacramento. KAZU's Doug McKnight reports.
San Jose State University Political Science Professor Terry Christensen paints a grim picture ahead for Republicans in the California legislature because of the state’s new redistricting plan. The plan was drawn up by a Citizen’s Independent Redistricting Commission. It potentially gives the Democrats enough seats for a super majority in one or both houses and leaving the Republican’s out in the cold. “This is the real leverage they’ve got in the legislature right now that they have at least a third, a little bit over a third, that’s enough to block any tax increase and in return for any marginal increase in revenues they can ask for major concessions on public employee pensions for example or environmental regulations or the things that are their top priorities,” Professor Christensen explains.
An example of the impending shift is the small community of Boulder Creek. It sits among the towering redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Boulder Creek was moved into a senate district that includes the cities of Santa Cruz and Monterey. It leans heavily Democratic and it has dramatically increased the number of Democrats in the district. That was enough to convince the incumbent, moderate Republican, Sam Blakeslee to not seek re-election. Blakeslee says “We came to the conclusion after looking at the change of registration plus the fact that so many of the losses were in a geographic area where people sort of knew me best, we concluded that probably it would be…it would probably be out of reach and just needed to be realistic.”
Blakeslee’s Republican colleagues are not so accepting. Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a press release blasting the plan. He described it as “overrun by partisan interests and its outcome unfairly manipulated.” The Republican’s took the issue to the state Supreme Court, but lost. They are now circulating a petition that would place an initiative on the November ballot to throw out the new Senate districts.
Former Democratic Assemblyman Fred Keeley, on the other hand, disagrees with the Republicans about the work of the Commission saying, “They took a good serious look through the lenses that they were supposed to use and came up with a redistricting plan that is fair and in addition to being fair, I think, it will be reflective of the values of California.” Keeley was in the Assembly in 2001 when the legislature last redrew the lines. He says they were drawn with the specific goal of reelecting the incumbents, and this so-called “incumbent protection plan” worked. Keeley says the proof is the limited turn over in either house over the last ten years, “When there was an enormous Democratic wave crashing over the United States in 2008 no seats changed hands in the California Legislature. When there was a Republican wave crashing over the United States in 2010 there were no changes in the California legislature.”
So what do the Republicans do in order to stay competitive? Professor Christensen says ultimately they have to grow the party. “The party registration right now is 45% Democratic and 30% Republican. 45% to 30%. And the balance is independent or decline to state. Well you can’t be a really competitive party with 30%,” Christensen explains. And growing the party is just what the Republicans are trying to do. The party is hosting a series of town hall meetings with Latinos, Asians and young people—key groups that the party lacks in large numbers. Those town meetings will be held at the Republican’s Spring convention this weekend in San Francisco.