This is the second 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.
Republicans believe that they were hoodwinked by the Democrats in the new redistricting process in California – principally because the Republicans played by the rules specified in the initiative. What they obviously didn’t understand was that the process itself – specifically, how the commission’s members were selected – undermined the Republicans from the outset.
The first problem facing the Republicans was finding people willing to sit on the commission, whose work would require an extensive amount of time. One Republican, attorney Jodie Filkins Webber, stated that during one three-month period she was working eighteen-hour days – a full day on commission activities followed by another full day at her legal practice. Ultimately, this meant that the people willing to work on the commission would closely resemble people sitting on a jury – the unemployed, government workers, retirees, or people who work for large corporations or foundations.
The second obstacle stemmed from the process by which the pool of applicants was filtered down to the final 60 people, a task that the Proposition clearly assigned to the state auditor’s office. Most political observers would think that putting three career government employees in charge of selecting the final pool of applicants might slant matters against Republicans. But somehow Daniel Kolkey, the principal author of Proposition 11 and a registered Republican (who will reappear later in this drama), did not foresee that the state auditors would approach this task with a partisan agenda.
Legislative leaders were then given the ability to remove up to 24 of the remaining 60 applicants. There were lots of complaints about the 36 candidates selected, but the Republicans involved in the process mollified their concerned supporters by claiming that if anyone thought the finalists were bad, the ones who were vetoed were even worse.
The problem was that apparently no Republican leader was either a trial lawyer or had ever seen the movie Runaway Jury. In that movie, Gene Hackman played a jury consultant that dug up details about potential jurors. The Republicans decided against engaging someone with similar skills. If Republicans had done such, they would have found that Commissioner Dr. Gabino Aguirre had hidden a long-standing relationship with Assemblyman Das Williams and had made contributions to his campaign. Or they may have found that Jeanne Raya failed to disclose multiple contributions during the prior 18 months as required by her application. In both cases the state auditor’s office was supposed to verify the facts and in both cases a Democrat was let through with undeclared conflicts of interest.
The first eight panel members were randomly chosen using numbered ping pong balls. There had to be three Democrats, three Republicans, and two Decline-to-States. The final six members, consisting of two from each category, were chosen by the first eight. This is when the process began to seriously undercut Republican hopes – along with the intent of the Proposition itself.
The commission needed to have racial balance, and while one Black panelist was picked by ping pong ball, a second one was chosen by the panel. Curiously, both the randomly-selected Black as well as the second Black member chosen were both Decline-to-States. This gave Democrats the opportunity to fill the remaining five positions using ethnic quotas, which turned out to be four Hispanics and one Asian. These racial machinations did cause one interesting question to be raised: Are there really two Decline-to-State blacks in California?
The 2010 California voter registration reveals that 77% of Blacks in the Golden State are registered Democrats, 5% are Republicans, and 18% are Decline-to-States. It turned out, in the opinion of one knowledgeable source, that the two Black members weren’t registered Democrats because they found the Democratic Party too conservative. In fact, if you reviewed the resumes of the four Decline-to-State commission members – without looking at either their pictures or their party affiliation – you would quickly conclude that three of them were left-wing Democrats. Two are career government employees for the cities of Oakland and Los Angeles, and a third one is a lawyer, all of which exposed the premise that the Decline-to-State panelists were political centrists as an outright lie. The fact that leftists now had a stranglehold on the commission (three members of each group had to vote for each map) was only further demonstrated during its largest battle – Congressional districts in South-Central Los Angeles. Predictably, the two Black members protected the inexecrable and corrupt Maxine Waters.
Of the final six members, the most controversial choice was a woman named Maria Blanco. Ms. Blanco had been General Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), a well-known left-wing group, but still somehow managed to become one of the 36 finalists. When she wasn’t one of the randomly selected panelists, Blanco read the tea leaves and realized that her chances going forward were weak. Apparently, Ms. Blanco had registered as a Northern Californian, and the ping pong balls had disproportionately picked Northern Californians. But since the commission had to be geographically balanced, Ms. Blanco magically became a resident of Southern California. With all this going against her, she was still chosen as a panelist – which only further displayed how politically manipulated the selection process had become. (Ms. Blanco refused to be interviewed for this column.)
The critical step of panel selection was now complete, and the redistricting process began to move forward. But like any other high-stakes exercise – especially when you have people like Maria Blanco on the panel – political power centers began to form, causing one witness to compare it to junior high school cliques. It soon became clear who the power brokers were: Blanco and Cynthia Dai, the Asian Democrat from San Francisco. They knew that, above all, they had to create an alliance with the two Black Decline-to-State members, and they had to identify and target the three Republicans who were most likely to capitulate. They quickly pinpointed three malleable Republicans, leaving out Jodie Filkins Webber and Michael Ward, both of whom had apparently read Lord of the Flies (and maybe even Sun Tzu’s The Art of War).
The commission members may have been selected, but this was a new process with very little structure and precedent. Staff needed to be hired and consultants needed to be engaged. Each one of these decisions would be pivotal in creating the final reapportionment maps.