The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is remaking the maps by which politicians are elected. And legal scholar Angelo Ancheta is in the thick of it.
Expect a hot summer for the director of SCU’s Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, Angelo Ancheta. Come Aug. 15, he and 13 fellow members of California’s inaugural Citizens Redistricting Commission have a report due to the secretary of state: final drafts of four maps by which Californians elect representatives to state and national government.
The commission was created when the Voters FIRST Act passed by a narrow margin in November 2008 as Proposition 11. Combined with the passing of Proposition 20 in 2010, the act effectively shifts the responsibility for redrawing California’s districts from lawmakers to a new 14-member commission.
Members of the commission were selected from an initial pool of nearly 30,000 applicants. A panel assembled by the State Auditor’s Office narrowed this list to 60 of the most qualified applicants, consisting of 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans, and 20 others. Next, the Majority and Minority Leaders in the California Senate and Assembly exercised an agreed-upon trimming power, reducing the list to 36 names. Then the first eight members of the commission were drawn at random; those eight individuals then selected the remaining six members. Ancheta was unanimously elected in February by other members to replace a local education official who resigned in January.
Work involves public hearings the length and breadth of the Golden State.
Although Ancheta has worked primarily in the private and nonprofit sector for most of his career, this won’t be the first time he has operated in the redistricting ring. He worked on redistricting advocacy in the 1990s, advising Asian and Pacific Islander–American community groups. (For the record, he’s one of five Democrats on the commission; there are five Republicans and four other members.) This time, his work involves public hearings the length and breadth of the Golden State, listening to citizens from Redding to Yuba City to Los Angeles testify about their communities and how they would be affected, for better or worse, by redrawing political boundaries. Since April, the commission has hosted three to four public hearings a week.
The commission has to make its work as transparent as possible, and in the end there are four maps due: for U.S. House of Representatives districts, 40 State Senate districts, 80 State Assembly districts, and four Board of Equalization districts. Before the commission is finished, Ancheta is prepared for “criticisms from the Left and the Right, and civil rights groups want to make sure that we don’t impact minority voting rights.”
The new maps should be in place for the 2012 primary season. What should we expect? One, they’ll reflect where there has been faster growth in population—places like Riverside, as well as generally eastward. Will that mean more Republican-leaning districts? Or that Latino voters have greater influence?
Public perception is that last time redistricting was undertaken, Republicans and Democrats alike wanted safe districts, and that this encouraged rather than ameliorated partisanship in Sacramento. The law that created the commission does not require drawing so-called competitive districts. “But we probably will end up with more of that type of district because of how we’re looking at it,” Ancheta says.
With publication of the maps, the process doesn’t quite end. By mid-August, 95 percent of the work is done. “But five years from now we may still be meeting,” Ancheta says. Lawsuits are a typical recourse taken by communities that dislike the divisions, and the commission will be responsible for these cases during the next 10 years.