Elections may seem to reflect the will of the voters, but there are many other factors that can influence the outcome of elections before a single vote is cast, and many of those factors are difficult for the non-politico to follow, let alone understand.
Take, for example, the process of redistricting – redrawing congressional and other districts—which happens once every 10 years, in accordance with the census.
At the beginning of each decade, each state must redraw district lines to create some semblance of equity. Each district must include approximately the same number of people, and districts cannot be drawn so as to diminish the political influence of certain protected minority groups.
On Friday, a brand-new Citizen’s Redistricting Commission is set to unveil four separate drafts, proposed maps that will outline preliminary shapes for California’s congressional districts, as well as the state’s senate legislature, and board of equalization districts. No Jews currently serve on this new commission, and for the Jewish community to be part of the discussion, it will be crucial to consider the issues at stake and to use public forums to make their preferences known.
Thousands of individuals and dozens of groups already have made formal suggestions to the 14-member bipartisan commission about how they’d like to see their communities defined for the purposes of political representation. The commission—which includes five registered Democrats, five Republicans, and four “decline-to-states”—has yet to hear much from the Jewish community about how its members would choose to draw the lines around their neighborhoods.
“We have monitored some of the meetings,” Catherine Schneider, senior vice president for community engagement at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said in an interview this week. Until now, Federation hasn’t expressed any opinion about what any particular districts should look like. “Nor will we,” Schneider said.
But if Federation is trying to maintain neutrality—possibly in order to act as a broker between the Jewish community and other communities in future elections – some Jewish groups have been more vocal about how they’d like to see district lines drawn.
At least two Jewish groups—the West Coast Region of the Orthodox Union and Hatzolah, an Orthodox-run volunteer ambulance corps—submitted identical letters last month, requesting that the commission unite the “Beverly-Fairfax, Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson/Beverlywood areas into single districts” for representation in the state senate and assembly, as well as for representation in congress.
According to the redistricting commission’s website, groups representing specific regions (like the San Gabriel Valley), ethnicities (including African Americans, Latinos, Chinese Americans and many others) and special interests (like environmentalism) have all submitted maps outlining their preferred district boundaries. But according to commission spokesman Rob Wilcox, no maps from Jewish groups have been submitted.
Which is not to say that Jews haven’t been concerned. One official in a national pro-Israel organization who spoke on condition of anonymity said in mid-February that his “nightmare scenario” would be that the new lines could bring about an election pitting two or more of the strongly pro-Israel, Jewish, Democratic and longstanding members of the House of Representatives against one another.
The official was referring to Reps. Howard Berman, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff, and Henry Waxman, who between them have 80 years of experience in Congress.
Such a situation would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Before California voters approved Proposition 11 in November 2008 to create the new bipartisan commission, also granting it the power to draw lines for congressional districts in November 2010, Michael Berman, a political consultant who is Jewish and is also Congressman Howard Berman’s brother, was responsible for drawing congressional district boundaries. Michael Berman drew the lines in 1981 and 2000, which were then sent to the California state legislature for approval. They were, in most cases, drawn in a way that protected incumbents.
Bruce Cain, executive director at the University of California’s Washington, D.C., Center, said that initially the prospects for Los Angeles’s current congressional delegation had looked “a little bleak,” because of the shift in population away from the city towards the inland empire.
But based on initial “visualization” maps, a set of documents released by the commission on June 2 as an early draft, Cain said he believes those incumbents may have less to worry about than many initially thought.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be too bad,” Cain said on Wednesday afternoon. “It looks like there are places to land for Berman, Waxman, and to some extent Sherman too. But it’s going to be hard to tell.”
Cain is familiar with the process from having worked on California’s redistricting after the 1980 census, and on nonpartisan redistricting for cities in California and the state of Arizona after the 1990 and 2000 counts. He said the recently released visualization maps also show the congressional seat, formerly held by Jane Harman and still undecided, looks to remain “pretty much intact.” That seat’s next occupant will be determined in a July 12 runoff between Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and South Bay businessman Craig Huey.
If the lines on the visualization maps become the final version, however, Congressmen Sherman and Howard Berman would both reside in the same district. However, members of Congress, unlike state senators and members of the assembly, do not have to live in the districts they represent.
One longtime political observer, who did not want to be named, suggested that Jewish leaders should look carefully at the possibility of either Sherman or Howard Berman running in the district directly to the north of the one in the West San Fernando Valley, where both live.
That district includes parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and is currently held by Republican Elton Gallegly. But it would become more Democratic-leaning if redrawn along the lines on the visualization maps, according to an analysis done by Redistricting Partners, a Sacramento-based consulting group.
The lines could still change. In the two weeks following Friday’s release of the draft maps, the commission will hold hearings in cities throughout California to allow the public to comment on the draft lines. (A meeting in Culver City is set for June 16; information about other scheduled meetings can be found on the commission’s website, wedrawthelines.ca.gov.)
“There’s a real opportunity for the community to speak out and make sure that the voices of our distinct Jewish communities are not diluted,” said Andrew Lachman, a member of the Democratic National Committee, who is also running for State Assembly.
Cain wasn’t so sure how much influence the public will have at this stage in the process.
“I think that there’s a good chance that there will be changes,” he said, but added that the commission might not want to alter “the basic architecture” outlined in the visualization maps released last week.
“If you make a really major change, you can solve one problem and create new ones,” Cain said.
The draft maps are expected to be released on the commission’s website at about noon on Friday, June 10.