Prepare to Be Redistricted
Welcome to the political New Year in California, where the partisan warfare begins as soon as the champagne runs out. Most of the aggravation at the moment is revolving around Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's broken promise to public schools – but there's a far deeper political debate brewing, as well.
The issue is redistricting, included as one of the Republican governor's four main points of reform in his recent State of the State address. Essentially, the question is whether to take away the power of politicians to strike deals with each other on how their own districts are drawn. For Jewish Los Angeles and its familiar political faces, that could mean landing in a new Assembly, state Senate or congressional district with a new representative.
Schwarzenegger points to the fact that not a single congressional seat changed parties in the 2004 elections because both parties colluded to carve out safe regions for themselves to mutual advantage.
Redistricting is only supposed to happen once a decade after each census, but Schwarzenegger can't wait that long to fight for the people, so he's backing a state constitutional amendment introduced by Bakersfield Republican Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy. The amendment would put redistricting in the hands of a commission of retired judges.
Some Democrats, like Westside state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, are accusing Schwarzenegger of trying to pull a Tom DeLay-style Texas power grab, where midcensus Republican redistricting netted the GOP four extra House of Representative seats in 2004.
But California is not Texas, and some local Jewish Democrats are not worried.
"I waiver between indifference and welcoming it," Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) told The Journal.
Berman's two criteria for supporting redistricting by a committee of judges are that they do not take into consideration any political data on citizens when drawing the maps, and that they do not try to achieve any partisan result.
"There may be some inconveniences for existing Democratic incumbents, but in the end a fair and legal redistricting is going to more likely help my party than hurt it," Berman said.
With Democrats firmly in control of California (Arnie excepted), Berman said redistricting would be far more dangerous to GOP incumbents.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) agrees, saying that there are senior Republican congressmen who could be in electoral trouble if their districts are redrawn: "This is chiefly a Democratic state."
Sherman estimated that if every district were a microcosm of the state as a whole, Democrats would win all 53, "with the exception of those where Republicans could recruit a candidate with 22-inch biceps."
Sherman's major concern on the issue is the sheer cost of re-educating the public about who their representatives are.
And as for Los Angeles' Jewish communities, Berman said that they can rest assured that whichever district and representatives they end up with will "be quite responsive" to their needs, whether or not they are Jewish.
Mayoral Debate: Different Place, Same Themes
On Jan. 13, a snarling traffic jam surrounded Temple Beth Am on the Westside. Inside, the five major L.A. mayoral candidates debated public policy just out of earshot of furious commuters.
All of the substantive questions that night were provided by the Jewish audience on tiny slips of paper read by the moderator (who, not incidentally, was late because she got stuck in traffic).
Familiar themes repeated themselves: Mayor James Hahn emphasizing decreasing violent crime, Councilman Bernard Parks accusing Hahn of corruption, state Sen. Richard Alarcon promoting his government ethics initiative, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg preaching innovation in government and Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa riding his wave of optimism.
The candidates were discouraged from addressing each other directly because there was no opportunity for rebuttal. This was a forum for the people.
On the particularly apropos issue of mediating L.A. traffic, Hahn uninspiringly told the crowd that "we all have to recognize there's no magic bullet.... There's a lot of little things."
Villaraigosa spoke of extending mass transit rail to the ocean, though the MTA reports that just reaching to Culver City will take until 2010.
Hertzberg seemed to have the most thoughtful traffic plan in his Commuter's Bill of Rights, which focuses on putting L.A. commerce and industry on a more dispersed schedule rather than the usual sunrise-sunset gridlock. Whether he could actually enact those provisions as mayor, such as keeping heavy trucks off the road during rush hour, is another question.
On the issue of the local economy, Parks blasted Hahn's administration for failing to attract more large business headquarters. He said Los Angeles, which has none, pales in comparison to Atlanta, which boasts 30. Alarcon took the opposite tack, saying, "We cannot acquiesce to multinational corporations," but rather ensure that the L.A. working class has decent wages.
The widest diversity of opinion came on the topic of crime. Parks, a former police chief, said the LAPD enjoys too many perks for too little work, Hahn said the LAPD needs more money and Hertzberg accused the mayor of wastefulness in asking for more funds when only 3 percent of all new city income since 2001 was spent on police.
New Math for Population Growth
A huge and growing Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, popularized in Israel as the "demographic bomb," reinforces the notion that much of the territories are untenable for Israel to retain.
But now, even as disengagement proceeds, Los Angeles businessman Bennett Zimmerman and a team of researchers are claiming that only 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza combined – about 1 million fewer than leading Israeli demographers had projected and 1.4 million fewer than the Palestinians claim.
Bennett's report is making the rounds at Republican bastions like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.
The new study focuses on several supposed mistakes in the previous data. Among the differences in the new study: It prefers Palestinian Ministry of Health birth records over statistical projections, it claims to find a high level of emigration from the territories and it found a case of double counting, where 210,000 Jerusalem Arabs who were already counted in Israel's population survey were included in the P.A. survey.
"If you look at the reports of [demographers] Arnon Soffer or Sergio Della Pergola, they use numbers issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [PBS] in their forecasts," Zimmerman said. "We say that the projection from the PBS didn't come to be."
The study has not gone unnoticed by other researchers in the field. Demographer Della Pergola spoke to The Journal from Israel: "I gladly acknowledge that the effects of international migration should be computed, but there are very limited possibilities for absorption of Palestinians abroad."
The main discussion is about fertility, said Della Pergola. He questioned the quality of the Ministry of Health records, which point to fewer births.
"The U.N. has shown that it is much better to prefer a [statistical] model when actual data collection is totally inadequate," he said.
He noted there has been a long tradition of underreporting "vital events" like births by the Palestinians.
And as for the fertility rate, Della Pergola said that Zimmerman's team used Jordan as a model (which has low average birthrate) for the Palestinians, rather than the Israeli Arab model (which is much higher).
Zimmerman said his team was simply trying to audit the existing data.
"Ours was a question of verification," he said.
Della Pergola isn't buying it: "I find here an attempt to fit the data to their preconceptions. It is based on total ignorance of the scientific literature."