Having watched the California Redistricting Commission do its work, I could literally write a couple dozen blog commentaries about how screwed up they were – the process, the participants, and (predictably) the outcome. Hind sight, of course, is 20-20 — but it was clearly folly to think that you could take the politics out of redistricting, which is an inherently political process. For my part, I wish Propositions 11 and 20 had simply assigned the task of drawing the lines to the courts and called it a day. Because politics did play into the process and outcome of the Commission’s work, the maps have Republicans taking it in the shorts — specifically and mostly in the Congressional maps and the State Senate maps.
With the Congressional lines as drawn, Republicans stand to lose between two and five seats in the House of Representatives from California. It will be a judgment call for the Congressional folks and the NRCC to decide whether to initiative a referendum on those lines. I would — but then again, I don’t have to come up with the soft dollars, they do (talk is cheap, eh?).
In my opinion, the State Senate maps as drawn virtually guarantee that Republicans in the upper chamber will no longer represent over a third of the total Senate membership, and thus will quickly lose much of their current relevance to the legislative process…
Over at the Fox and Hounds Daily website, FR friend Allan Hoffenblum penned a concise and on-point analysis of competitive State Senate races for 2012. To summarize his key points… Senator Sam Blakeslee is a “redistricting victim” with his current Republican-leaning Central Coast seat vaporizing before his eyes. With the Democrats picking up that seat easily, they only need one more pickup to have two-thirds control of the Senate. Unfortunately, there are three separate seats where they have more than just a shot at a pickup. It’s actually possible the Democrats could “run the table” and leave only 11 Republicans in the Senate. Tom Berryhill and Tony Strickland would be running as incumbents, but in seats that look very difficult to win. And Assemblyman Jeff Miller needs to pick up a Democrat leaning State Senate seat in the Inland Empire. A single loss has dire consequences. In 2008, Strickland was elected to a slightly better district than the one in which he would seek re-election, and he was barely elected with over $5 million spent on his behalf. And it is worth noting that Strickland was THE target in 2008 — in 2012 he would have to share the spotlight, and the resources, with both Berryhill and Miller.
So it’s no wonder and a no-brainer for Senate Republicans to be working towards qualifying a referendum of the lines. Referending the lines is no small endeavor — it takes slightly over a half-million signatures from registered voters. That effort alone will cost over $2 million dollars. Once enough valid signatures are verified, the California Supreme Court would appoint special masters to draw a new set of lines that would be used in next year’s elections. In addition, both the Redistricting Commission’s Senate maps and the court-drawn Senate maps would be voted on in November. While it is impossible to predict what court-drawn maps would look like, there is a good chance that new lines actually look better for the GOP (to use a Scrabble analogy, if you have all vowels and “throw in” your tiles for new ones, it is possible that you get seven more vowels — but it is not likely).
For State Senate Republicans, they must act. Even just qualifying the referendum may be enough. This is kind of convoluted, but while the Commission’s maps have the GOP likely losing seats next year, in 2014 the political landscape looks better with a probably GOP pickup of the Central Orange County seat currently held by Lou Correa. For Senate Republicans, failure to qualify a referendum on the lines is potentially a political extinction event.
That having been said, we have the curious case that many business-oriented “third house” PACs seem to be quite opposed to the referendum. In talking to some of them, there is a hesitancy to give because of the unpredictable outcome. There is no iron-clad guarantee that the court-drawn Senate lines will be better, and the lobbyists in Sacramento have bosses to do not much like the idea of spending large amounts of money without a guaranteed improvement.
Of course the is also the fact that, based on what I have heard, there may more and better opportunities to keep Republicans in the State Assembly in the game — keeping their numbers over the one-third mark. This is especially relevant to Senate GOPers because you can pretty well predict that if the third house starts to feel that winning three tough Senate races isn’t looking good, they will shift their attention, and money, to Assembly races.
Hopefully Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, Senator Mimi Walters, Senator Joel Anderson and the others (the Caucus formally voted to back a signature drive) will be successful in raising the consider funds that will be required to referend the Commission’s lines. If not, in 2013 Senate Republicans may be caucusing at someone’s dining room table — and Democrats will have taken a key step forward in being able to impose new income, property and other taxes without a vote of the people.