This is the third of a three-part series on the redistricting process that was dictated by a Proposition voted by the residents of California to take the politics out of the process.
With the commission in place and member alliances created, the most important decisions affecting reapportionment could now be made. Because the commission had no staff and no operating precedent, all of the key support positions had to be hired, and decisions regarding committee procedure had to be made. The Proposition had decreed that the final maps needed to be approved by a supermajority, which meant that within each of the three groups (Republicans, Democrats and Decline-to-States); a majority (3 of each) had to support the final plan. Despite these noble intentions, the single event that turned the entire commission into a racially manipulative process was to have all operational decisions made by majority vote.
From that moment on, each step in the process could be dominated by a closely-knit liberal faction comprised of the three far-left Decline-to-States along with the five Democrats. This produced a structural 8-6 majority which effectively resulted in control of the panel and, of course, a predetermined outcome. Smart manipulators who could foresee the impact of key decisions could paint the other participants into a corner, and this was indeed the role played by Cynthia Dai and Maria Blanco. The three key decisions were:
1) Hiring a staff along with someone to manage it. An “impartial” organization might look for someone with a history of independence, but that clearly wasn’t the objective when they hired Dan Claypool from the State Auditor’s office. Mr. Claypool, a career government employee and a self-described “progressive Democrat” and supporter of Barack Obama, should never have been considered, but he was voted in by the left-wing majority.
2) Identifying who would draw the maps, perhaps the most critical decision of all. This requires a skill set that few organizations have. The commission established qualifying criteria. Based on these standards, the clear winner was the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont-McKenna College, which had been in operation since 1973 and had years of credentials. Normally the left likes college-affiliated organizations, but Rose drew the ire of Dai and Blanco because of past work for Republicans. So they ordered Doug Johnson, Executive Director of Rose, to identify every donor to Claremont-McKenna and produce a list of each of their political activities for the past ten years. The commission gave Johnson 72 hours to accomplish a task that couldn’t be completed in a year. A typical left-wing tactic – create an illogical and unnecessary insurmountable obstacle.
With Rose facing this ridiculous hurdle, the commission turned to Karin McDonald of Q2 Data & Research LLC. The fact that McDonald openly admitted a prior relationship with Blanco did not deter the commission from funneling the contract to her company. Q2 had never even attempted a project this size, and were obviously unqualified for the job, but that didn’t stop the left-wing majority. Without informing the commission, Claypool retroactively changed the qualification standards for the mapping company so that Q2 would be eligible. He claimed that these changes were made to expand the pool of applicants (and, specifically, not to benefit any one company), but since there were no other candidates being considered, the only beneficiary was Q2. The leftists now had their mapper in place; and, when you control the maps, you control the end product.
3) Selecting legal counsel, a primary advisor to the commission, was the final pivotal engagement. California is literally overrun by lawyers, but very few are experts on the Voter’s Rights Act and related issues. Marguerite Leoni is one of the foremost specialists in this field, but her problem was she works at the law firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, et al. The name Merksamer set off blazing lights for Dai and Blanco as he was once chief of staff to George Deukmejian, so they executed their biggest ploy yet. They stated they wanted a bipartisan firm, so Blanco suggested Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher even though (surprise!) Maria Blanco had a prior relationship with George Brown, one of their partners. In theory, Brown would team with Daniel Kolkey, the Republican author of Proposition 20 who was eminently qualified for this assignment. Ultimately, Gibson, Dunn was selected as counsel based on the bipartisan credentials.
But once the proceedings started, Kolkey disappeared and George Brown became not only the lead attorney, but the only one the commission ever saw or heard. Mr. Brown claimed that Gibson, Dunn worked as a team, but in fact Kolkey’s contributions – if any ever existed – were never found. Brown was completely unqualified for the assignment; on the Gibson, Dunn website, he is listed as an expert on securities law issues and related matters. When later asked what skills he personally brought to the table, Brown said “We worked on a team approach.” He did have one principal qualification – he was a liberal Democrat and closely affiliated with the civil rights community.
With control over the process and the staffing, it was apparent that every move forward would be dictated by Dai and Blanco and their allies. Dai was stated to have surreptitiously communicated with Senate Democrats, who, in truth, were the main drivers of this process, and whose objective was patently obvious: a 2/3 majority in the State Senate so that Democrats could have complete and unfettered control over the California legislature.
The commission even generated a pretense of public participation, but Democrats and their special interest constituencies stacked that deck as well. As soon as the panel scheduled a public hearing somewhere in the state, their special interest allies would bus in hundreds of people to speak. By the time Joe Citizen showed up to testify, the speaking sheet would be filled up for three and one-half of the four-hour hearings. The “public input” was rarely public input.
All this time, what were the Republicans doing? To be accurate, it’s hard to get a straight answer. Senator Bob Dutton, the minority leader at the time, maintained that he did what his caucus directed, making sure to remain within compliance of the law. The Congressional delegation seemed to sit on their hands. Mark Abernathy and Dave Gilliard, advisors to Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and Ed Royce respectively, didn’t return any of our telephone calls. Perhaps they’re embarrassed at the likely prospect of losing six seats in California.
The commission boasted that their results were fair and reasonable. They love to cite the fact that two long-term Democrats – Howard Berman and Brad Sherman – ended up in the same district. One panelist stated that considering the commission’s race-immersed environment, it’s easy to see why they were the shining example – both are Jewish and no one on the commission was a Jew. Latinos, Blacks, and gays were protected by special interests, but not Jews. In the meantime, a slew of Republican Congressmen have called it quits knowing that their new districts are unwinnable.
The good intentions of naïve people are always overwhelmed by those who have the desire to manipulate the result. Republicans started this process and supported it as a way to get politics out of redistricting. But all it really did was put it in the hands of people who claimed impartiality, but were in truth as political as the ones doing it before. Reapportionment is a political process, and to believe that politics can be removed from it is the height of stupidity and delusion. It’s always better to know your enemy than to have them disguised. This commission was an abject failure, and it either needs to be dismantled or Republicans in 2021 had better be ready to go to war and not be taken to the cleaners again.
Incredibly, the proponents of Proposition 20 and 11 want to spread this to other states. If this idea shows up in your home town, consider yourself warned.