Today, Jane Harman (age 65) resigned her California Congressional seat to accept an appointment to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think tank. She is currently in her ninth term, having just been re-elected in November with over 59 percent of the vote.
In the November 2, 2010 ballot, California voters also approved Proposition 20 with over 61% of the vote, having received support from a broad and somewhat unusual coalition of interests that are not often aligned. Proposition 20 extended the authority of the Citizens Redistricting Commision authorized by the voters in Proposition 11 of November of 2008, also known as the Voter’s First Act. The 2008 initiative created a Citizens’ Redistricting commission to draw districts for the California State legislature. However it left authority to draw House of Representatives districts with the state legislature and governor. The 2010 measure also gave the authority to draw House of Representatives districts, like Harman’s, to the Commission.
Rules governing the citizen’s redistricting commission include the following:
- The law specifically prevents them from considering the residences of existing or potential candidates for elected office.
- The law requires them, to the extent possible under other constraints, to create geographically compact districts.
- The law prohibits them from considering political party registration data and prior voting history.
- The law requires them to try to the extent possible to keep together the boundaries of cities, counties, and other ‘communities of interest’ like school districts, water districts, as such. However existing congressional boundaries are specifically not ‘communities of interest’.
These rules are entirely different than what has characterized the past process of identifying voting districts. Previously a veteran congresswoman like Harman could confidently begin fundraising for the 2012 campaign secure in the knowledge that the democratically-controlled state legislature would build her a district by starting at her home and building outward with democratic-majority communities until they had encompassed the necessary population size. The current shape of Harman’s district appears below. It stretches from Westwood to San Pedro, while (i) avoiding certain communities like Palos Verdes and (ii) connecting points in the district by a narrow beach strip.
With California neither gaining nor losing congressional seats, a legislature-run redistricting process would have likely resulted in the new 36th district nearly identical to the current one except maybe a few adjustments at the edges to reflect population shifts.
No such result would be possible under Proposition 20. When the commission releases its final maps, expect that oddly-shaped districts like the current 36th will be parts of at least two districts, probably more. This will leave incumbents and potential candidates in a rush to decide:
- Is the district where my residence is at still the best one for me to run in? If not, to where do I move?
- How do I put together a winning coalition of supporters and contributors in this new home?
Choice 1 above is actually not very workable, simply because of the limited time involved. Because 2012 is a presidential election year, California will be moving up its primary to February to be part of the “early” states. Assuming all primaries for all offices are held together (a safe bet), the time between when a politician learns their final district boundaries and when ballots are cast for the primary election is certainly too short to plan a new election strategy and move to a new district.
Harman is not alone. Every California Congressperson and every California State Legislator will be in the same boat. A congressperson representing great swaths of central valley farmland will still be representing great swaths of central valley farmland, but the tight, twisty, and carefully gerrymandered urban and suburban districts like the 36th will be most transformed.