Who's Drawing the Lines?

Last time I checked, a room full of white men is not an accurate representation of California’s demographic.

That’s why as California gears up to redraw its legislative boundaries to reflect new census data from 2010, the state is creating an independent and “depoliticized”  redistricting committee of 14 people that will supposedly mirror the real California. As the golden state continues to sputter in political gridlock, redistricting is beginning to catch on as an important issue. This is especially true in the wake of accusations that California legislatures have used boundaries as political tools or “incumbent protection plans.” California’s move to draw new lines could very well reflect a national trend. But before a collective pat on the back is in order for this political innovation, let’s dig into the can of worms we’re about to open up.

Think folks from all walks of life are lining up to be on this committee? Not so much.

Michael Krasny from NPR’s Forum pointed out the general perception that this redistricting work is arcane, boring, dull, and overall, not too sexy. We’re not seeing people quite as eager to jump on the civic engagement bandwagon like they were in 2008 when Obama called for grassroots campaigners, especially when this redevelopment work has traditionally been done by white men at the state capitol. Go figure.

But the state is trying its darndest to bring in 14 men and women who actually represent the diversity of California by the Feb. 12 deadline. But so far three-fourths of the current applicant pool is made up of white men.

These new lines drastically impact how the state represents its citizens and the real question remains: Can you get enough applicants from diverse areas in California to redraw district boundaries that the state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization will use to make political decisions?

California voters thought so in November 2008 when we passed the Voters FIRST Act, the proposition to create this Citizens Redistricting Commission. To sit on this committee you have to be a few things:

-You must be a registered California voter and you must have voted in at least two of the past three statewide general elections as a five-year dedicated political member of your party of choice.

– You can’t have  served on a school board, served on legislature, be a registered lobbyist, or a campaign contributor of $2,000 or more.

-Basically, you shouldn’t be too involved in politics.

These restrictions are meant to bring in people outside of the political junket, but maybe these efforts are more political than we think.

Michael Krasny pointed out that 60 percent of Californians are people of color but only 30 percent of them vote. Krasny, perhaps naively, asked one of  the guests on his show if “we have a problem with apathy.”

Nancy Ramirez, Western regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund said that she didn’t want to call if apathy. “It goes along with a history of really putting barriers in place for the Latino community and other minority communities where there were restrictions in terms of making ballots available in other languages, and other discrimination measure put in place. After a while, people ask of their vote is really going to make a difference.”


Organizations like Ramirez’s are reaching out to widen the traditional breadth of applicants and working to educate people about the role of the redistricting commission.

This depoliticizing and “reach out” process are becoming expensive. Governor schwarzenegger just added $5 million to the $3 million originally designated to draw new lines.

Do you think we’ll see a state commission that looks like California?

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