California’s press corps churned out an extravaganza of metaphor over the weekend, laboring desperately to explain in plain English the most hated word in the political writer’s lexicon.
“Reapportionment,” a sprawling, stinking weed of a word that once every 10 years spews noxious fumes which send “don’t read this” signals straight to the brains of news consumers across the land, presents a confounding challenge of written composition for even the craftiest of political scribes.
Struggling to bury this five-syllable clunker (medieval Latin: apportionare) in the fourth graf or lower (or to avoid it altogether!) these writer warriors dig deep into their fine-writing-done-cheap trick bags to lure readers into spending even a brief moment with the single story that best represents the worst brand of spinach journalism (“read this – it’s good for you”).
And so: “Political earthquake roils California delegation,” screams one outlet, while another raises the stakes with “An earthquake with a tsunami,” even as a 48-hour Google News search yields 120 hits for the phrase “California political landscape” in the process of being, variously, “transformed,” “shaken-up,” “made over” or covered in “sweeping angst.”
In honor of our colleagues, these brave soldiers in the daily war of words, we present below a lively game of “Match That Metaphor” to test how closely political junkies read their favorite reporters. We also recommend that hopelessly hardcore types check out the early Saturday edition of Rough and Tumble, which presented no fewer than 22 stories about the new plans released by the state’s independent commission on reapportionment redistricting political cartography drawing new maps.
And amid this cloudburst tempest of tornado-like, gale-force, cyclonic blizzard monsoons, here’s our own look at the key factors in play in the just released plan for (you know what).
Competitiveness. PPIC policy fellow Eric McGhee, one of the smartest eggheads about this stuff we know, notes that the new scheme from the (all rise) California Citizens Redistricting bears a strong resemblance to two 2005 plans, one from the Rose Institute and one from the Institute for Governmental Studies, that were prepared to show how the state could be mapped without gerrymandering.
“They have met their mission,” he said of the commission. “They didn’t consider partisanship and they didn’t consider incumbency.”
McGhee defines a “competitive district” as one that falls between +5% Republican registration and +10% Democratic registration, a range designed to account for a) the greater propensity of GOPers to vote and b) the increased likelihood of D’s crossing over than R’s.
Using that measure, he concludes that the number of competitive districts, counting both houses of the Legislature and Congress, increases from 16 to 34 under the draft plan; the total includes 7 additional Assembly districts (9 competitive to 16); 6 additional Senate districts (3 to 9) and 5 additional House districts (4 to 9).
Displacement. A second big impact of the commission’s preliminary plan is that a large number of incumbent representatives and legislators would land in the same districts as an office holder of the same party. Notable examples include a Sacramento Assembly district, where three Democratic members all landed, the Southern California turf where Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon and longtime fellow Republican Elton Gallegly now squat, and an El Lay House seat where Democratic stalwart Howard Berman is thrust cheek to jowl with Representative Brad Sherman (ee-yew).
Overall, the redistricting plan includes 173 House and Legislative seats, of which 111 are now held by Democrats and 62 by Republicans. Of these, McGhee reports that 32 Democrats and 13 Republicans have been placed in a district with another incumbent of their party.
Partisanship. The draft plan released by the commission represents a net win for Democrats, reflecting the increasingly blue tint of California, as Republicans now represent less than one-third of registered voters.
Crunching the numbers on competitiveness, displacement and partisanship, McGhee estimates that Democrats could be favored to pick up two additional Assembly seats – which would give them the 54 needed for a two-thirds majority; one additional senate seat – which would give them 26, or one shy of two-thirds and up to five seats in the House, where Democrats already hold a 34-19 advantage over Republicans.
Democrat Garry South and Republican Jim Brulte, both of California Strategies, have been warning for months that the combination of redistricting and the top-two primary system is likely to provide Democrats with two to five more House seats and could easily result in the Democrats taking two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature.
After the preliminary maps were released, South said his outlook was even more certain. “These lines are disastrous for the Republicans,” he said. “The demographics of California are killing them.”
The dirty little open secret of reapportionment, he said, has been that the Democrats who controlled the system in the past had made safe Democratic AND Republican districts in exchange for protecting incumbents. But with party and incumbency now irrelevant in drawing the maps, the raw demography of the state undercuts Republicans in general and conservative Republicans in particular.
“There’s no place to run, no place to hide,” South said.
More change. The district lines released by the commission last week are still preliminary, and the 14-member board will hold further hearings over the summer, with the final lines due on August 15.
Of the complaints heard so far, not surprisingly some by whiny incumbents, the most important come from several civil rights groups, whose leaders say the proposed lines do not properly reflect increases in Latino population over the past 10 years.
This is hugely significant, of course, because the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights, was already used to reshape several districts around the state in the 2001 reapportionment.
It is still unclear how the political or legal efforts of Latino groups, in addition to other pressures that surely will be brought to bear on the commission, will or will not change the proposed lines.
What is clear is that politicians eyeing a race in 2012 need to start raising money as soon as possible because the release of the final lines in August will kick start the campaign.
As one Democratic hopeful put it, “It’ll be like getting shot out of a cannon.”
Match That Metaphor
Who (a-e) used which metaphor (1-5) to describe reapportionment?
1- California’s grand experiment with “citizen redistricting” produced sweeping angst across the state’s political landscape Friday as the first round of congressional and legislative maps hit the streets.
2- Political earthquake roils California delegation
3- The first draft of California’s once-a-decade redrawing of its political map ignited a chaotic game of musical chairs Friday
4-”It’s an earthquake with a tsunami”
5- The…proposed districts are part of a statewide political makeover being fashioned for the first time this year by an independent commission.