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Deal-making helped redraw Valley districts

March 07, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (MNS) — While both Republicans and Democrats claimed victory here Tuesday in the nation's nearly completed redistricting, political experts and party spokespeople said the redrawn Imperial Valley was more of a dealt draw.

Early last year the state Legislature passed by a two-thirds vote a redistricting plan that cut off Imperial Valley from the south suburban San Diego congressional district represented for 20 years by Republican Duncan Hunter.

Following the 2000 census, the county was added to the area represented by Democratic Rep. Bob Filner, which includes Chula Vista and other south San Diego-area communities.


California redistricting experts said the districts were redrawn to ensure that the incumbents, or at least members of the same parties, would remain in office after the November elections: a sort of local trade-off between Republicans and Democrats.

"(State legislators) admit it themselves that the overarching theme of the entire process in California was incumbency protection," said Amadis Velez, California redistricting coordinator at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "The Republicans had been losing seats for a while and they cut a deal to stop the bleeding."

The president of the nonpartisan and nonprofit California Voter Foundation expressed a similar opinion.

"It appears that the Republicans and Democrats in California worked together to some extent to protect their districts and to ensure that incumbents in general would not have a tough time this election," said Kim Alexander, whose organization works to educate California voters about the political process.

She pointed out such deal-making and incumbent protection may mean less competition and lower voter interest in elections. Velez said it could mean tighter party control over certain districts and less negotiation between the two parties.

A campaign adviser for the California Democratic Party, Bob Mulholland, said there was no need for his party, which controls most of California's political seats, to try to gain more than the one new seat through redistricting, which occurs once a decade.

"The Republicans here are damaged more by voters than redistricting ever could," he said, citing the four congressional seats Republicans lost in 2000.

"There really wasn't much point for us to try to do more damage to the Republican Party, so we went to them and said, ‘Look we want to involve you.

We'll let you draw your lines, but you're not going to gain any new seats, and we're not going to take any away.' "

Mulholland's words came on the same day that Democrats in Washington were declaring victory in the redistricting process.

"Democrats have won much to the surprise of pundits and other observers who thought the Republicans could engineer permanent majorities through redistricting," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

He described a $5 million campaign started a year ago to gain more seats in Republican-controlled states in the Sun Belt, particularly in Texas and New Mexico. Specifically, he said his party had gained nine new seats, including one in California.

Republican National Committee Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver responded, "The results are clear: The advantage is definitely on our side with a three-to eight-seat gain when all the dust settles."

Specifically, Oliver claimed victory for the Republicans in California. He said California was "an example of a place we feel great about. The Democrats had control of everything and they walked away with nothing."

Regardless of which party claim victory for the redistricting of California, Velez said the redistricting in the Imperial Valley represented a victory for the Latinos in the county.

"Suddenly you are seeing Imperial County going from having no Latino representation to having potentially a Latino in the Assembly, potentially in the (state) Senate and a (House) member who has in the past been supportive of some Latino issues and received high marks on Latino issues."

But he said separating certain Latino areas of Filner's previous district represented a splitting of the Hispanic community to protect the incumbent and was the reason his organization decided last October to file a lawsuit against the redrawn 51st District.

Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who heads the redistricting effort for the Democratic Party, said from what he had heard from fellow party members in California, "the plan protects incumbents' party in every district. I assume Bob will do fine. He's a very good member."

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