Two of the most influential Jewish congressmen in local and national politics may face each other in the 2012 elections, based on the initial draft of California’s new political map, released Friday by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The report released Friday was the first of four drafts, which will be subject to public meetings and discussion. Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman both draw their strengths from their San Fernando Valley constituencies and actually live within a few blocks of each other. Based on the commission’s initial map, Berman’s district lines would shift toward the east and Sherman’s toward the west, with changes in constituencies and boundaries that could set up race between the two veteran legislators.
“I don’t see how we can get around a confrontation between these two old friends and allies,” said Richard Mullin, president of a Santa Monica-based public opinion research company. Similarly, political scientist and Journal columnist Raphael Sonenshein noted that “the two men may have to run against each other.”
Berman’s redrawn district would now include a large number of Latino voters. Facing a likely challenge from a Latino candidate, Berman might opt to run in Sherman’s district instead.
In an interview with The Journal, Sherman seemed to draw confidence from the demography of the new district. He said he would retain 51 percent of the constituents he has now, 30 percent of voters he used to represent in his previous district, and 19 percent new constituents.
Berman released a statement saying, “It is premature to make an official campaign announcement until district lines are finalized. However, there is no question that I would want to continue representing this community.”
The quartet of influential local Jewish congressmen also includes Henry Waxman, whose present district stretches from Beverly Hills to Malibu and includes part of the Valley, and Adam Schiff (Pasadena).
Waxman will also have to deal with shifting boundaries, but veteran political journalist Harold Meyerson described his electoral strength as “unassailable.” Asked for comment, Waxman’s spokeswoman said that he was still studying the newly released map.
Schiff said in a statement that he hoped the commission would “choose to keep more cities intact in their final map” but that he “would be honored to serve this district as a member of the House of Representatives.”
At this point, political mavens face a lot of guesswork. The initial map will be followed by three more drafts, while the commission evaluates feedback from a series of public meetings
and other input by citizens and interest groups.
A final report and verification by the 14-member commission of Democrats, Republicans and independents is not due until Aug. 15. But the unanimous approval vote on the first draft appears to augur well for future agreement.
Despite these caveats, a consensus is forming among political analysts that Democrats will increase their already lopsided majority in the California congressional delegation by three to five seats. Similar Democratic gains are expected in the state legislatures.
But upsets are likely as California switches from a legislative districting system designed to provide safe seats for incumbents to one mandated to keep ethnic, socio-economic and other “communities of interest” within the same district.
Under the old “safe” system, Democrats were assured of 34 seats in the 53-member California congressional delegation in a good year, and 33 in a bad year, Sherman said.
But in 2012, under redrawn boundaries and more competitive races, Democrats might boost their number to 42, or, conversely, sink to the upper twenties, he added.
Looking at the state’s future political clout in Washington, Robert Stern, president of the non-partisan Center for Governmental Studies in West Los Angeles, weighed potential gains and losses.
With some powerful Republicans, such as Reps. David Dreier (San Dimas) and Elton Gallegly (Santa Barbara and Ventura counties) in danger of losing their seats in 2012, California might lose influential committee chairmanships if Republicans retain their majority in the House, Stern said.
But if Democrats gain control, and Waxman regains his old post as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Berman, if reelected, as chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the state’s clout would increase.
Perhaps more important in gauging the Golden State’s future influence are demographic shifts in the United States.
“This is the first time since California became part of the United States that it hasn’t gained seats after each decennial census,” said author Joel Kotkin, a Fellow in urban future studies at Chapman University.
So in this respect, while California is standing in place, Texas and Florida, with growing populations, are gaining congressional seats, and influence, in Washington.
Within the state, population growth and political power is slowly shifting from Los Angeles and other coastal cities to state’s inland areas, Kotkin added.
A public hearing on the commission’s first report will be held in Culver City at city hall on Thursday, June 16, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For complete maps and further information on the work of the redistricting commission, check www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov.