Having exhausted our splenetic humours, if not our administrative remedies, on the Calbuzz screed against whining and complaining about the proposed district maps from the Citizens Redistricting Commission, we finally found time to check in with policy analyst Eric McGhee, top chrome dome on redistricting at the Public Policy Institute of California, for a clearer sense about the partisan implications of the new maps.
McGhee said the plan just approved by the commission actually has fewer competitive seats than the draft maps they released in June, but overall is still significantly more competitive than the current gerrymander.
And while the new scheme gives Democrats a good chance to capture two-thirds majorities in both the Assembly and the state Senate, while also picking up additional House seats, he said anticipated results depend on the model you forecast for the make-up of the electorate next year.
“If we had these maps in 2008, the Democrats would have picked up a lot of House seats – 4, 5, 6 — and then in 2010 they would have lost them all,” McGhee told us. “There’s a very real chance the Democrats could get to two-thirds in both the Assembly and Senate,” if the electorate mirrors that of Obama’s big win in 2008. But if it looks like 2010, “they may actually lose (legislative) seats,” he added.
Put another way, while the state’s voting patterns have become more Democratic over the last 10 years, Democrats have not been able to take full advantage of it because the 2001 Incumbent Protection Act redistricting they engineered distributed their voters – or, to be more precise, concentrated them – in a way that put a ceiling on the number of seats they could win.
Fun with numbers: 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 28 under the draft plan; the total includes 2 additional Assembly districts (9 competitive to 11); 4 additional Senate districts (3 to 7) and 6 additional House districts (4 to 10). Here’s how he breaks down the competitive seats:
Assembly (8, 12, 16, 36, 40, 41, 44, 60, 61, 65, 66); Senate (5, 21, 25, 27, 31, 34, 39); House (3, 7, 9, 10, 24, 26, 31, 36, 41, 52)
At this point, it’s impossible to predict how those numbers break in handicapping the fate of many individual pols, because of the uncertainty arising from the large number of incumbents who got stuck in districts with other incumbents.
Of 173 total incumbents in the Legislature and the House (we refuse to think about the Board of Eek because we never really understood what they do and in any case hope they go away), 75 landed in a district with at least one other incumbent; in most cases – 59 – it’s an incumbent of the same party, while 16 are matched in a district with an incumbent of the other party.
This is a bigger deal in the House, where 15 Democrats and 8 Republicans ended up in a district with another incumbent. But for legislative seats, many of the same party incumbent pairings include at least one office holder who will be termed out next year; only 10 Assembly members are in a district with a colleague who’s not termed out, and just two senators are in that situation.
Bottom line: The headache-inducing, complex calculus of incumbents holding joint tenancy may be the strongest evidence yet that Ron Nehring’s whining (see Remap I) about how poorly Republicans fare under the commission’s plan is totally misplaced.
Says McGhee: “The randomness of this—coupled with the fact that in many, if not most, of these cases, there is an open seat next door that is more comfortable for one of the incumbents—suggests to me that the commissioners really didn’t know where the incumbents were located.”
Winning the lottery: The small amount of sympathy we have for Republican life’s-not-fair caterwauling comes when we look at the new 19th state Senate district in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Both Republicans who currently represent areas of the district — senators Sam Blakeslee and Tony Strickland – got pushed out, to the north and the south respectively, leaving just one incumbent lawmaker, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams, in the district.
Conservative blogger John Hrabe, writing over at CalWatchdog, has been trashing redistricting commissioner Gabino Aguirre, a Central Coast Latino labor activist, for a variety of purported sins, including his political ties to Williams, a line of attack that’s been picked up by the indefatigable Tony Quinn.
Hrabe bangs a little heavy on the keys for our taste, but when you look at Williams’ new 37th Assembly district, which is about as safe for him as can be, along with the new 19th SD , the future of the hyper-ambitious young pol looks bright indeed, whether he sits still for two more, two-year terms in the Assembly, or jumps into a 2012 race that could bring two four-year terms in the senate. Coincidence? You be judge.