So, the big day was last Friday, June 10, 2011. That’s when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC) officially released its initial maps. And happily the biggest howls of discontent came from entrenched politicians — such as our Lynn Woolsey who said, “It makes no sense whatsoever.”
Rep. Woolsey is up in arms because the compact Marin/most-of-Sonoma district (District 6, of course) that she could “represent” without much traveling or much effort, for that matter, has morphed into a long coastal district that stretches from Del Norte County at the top of California to the south tip of Marin county, including most of Sonoma County’s geography, but not Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, and the City of Sonoma. Read her complete statement here, but her main argument is that:
“In manufacturing a new coastal district under this draft map, the Redistricting Commission has dismissed its mandate and violated its own guidelines. The whole point is to keep communities of interest together. According to the Commission itself, districts are supposed to ‘be drawn to encourage geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant populations.’
Perhaps Rep. Woolsey should take another look at the current California congressional districts. Yes, District 6 is conveniently “compact,” but District 1 stretches from Del Norte down through Napa and over into Yolo. Does Del Norte have any more in common with Napa than with Marin? At least Del Norte and Marin are both coastal counties. And look also at current District 2. It is huge — as is District 4. The people who represent these districts have to (theoretically, anyway) do even more traveling. Does Rep. Woolsey think herself so special that she (and those who succeed her) should be exempt from representing a large geographic area? Why should her colleagues perpetually have to deal with expansive districts while she need not?
The fact is that many counties in California, both in the north and the south, have many square miles but relatively little population. Del Norte only has 28,610 people, according to the 2010 census. Yet they must be represented in a congressional district which, again due to census numbers, must contain 702,905 (plus/minus one) California residents. Del Norte doesn’t really fit in with any county at the far end of a district that contains it. But since congressional districts must be contiguous, this reality is unavoidable. This year, it happens that Del Norte is being included in district that makes more sense than the district drawn ten years ago: the 2011 district is a coastal district; the previous one went coastal until it arrived as Sonoma County where it veered to the interior, shearing off a slice of Sonoma to add to Lake and Napa Counties. But of course, we didn’t hear a peep out of Rep. Woolsey back in 2001. No, she got her cozy little district and didn’t have a negative thing to say.
Now then, I won’t deny that I had hoped the CRC would adopt something else. The map drawn by Columbia Law School appealed to me because as a Sonoma County resident whose county has been divided on congressional district maps for some time now, I would have liked to see it whole this time, and the Columbia map achieves that by connecting Sonoma with Mendocino and part of Napa. Del Norte, in this map, is included in a giant northern district that runs across the entire breadth of the state; it would be a travelling challenge for candidates/incumbents to be sure, and perhaps the magnitude of this district caused the CRC to reject it, although I’m just speculating. And what of Marin County? This map would combine it with a portion of Contra Costa. This would not be the kind of “partnership” Marin has been used to, but it isn’t completely out of place. No more out of place than Del Norte being combined with Napa…or Del Norte with Marin.
Yes, I hoped for a united Sonoma County. Many in our district urged the CRC to keep Sonoma and Marina together. But the reality is that the combined population of Sonoma and Marin ( 483,878 + 252,409 = 736,287) exceeds by 33,382 the per district limit of 702,905. If these two are paired, a slice of one of the other would have to be apportioned in another district, regardless. This apparently doesn’t bother Lynn Woolsey and others who advocated a continued Marin/Sonoma district, but when possible, I prefer districts that permit whole counties (which are of themselves very significant “communities of interest”).
The Press Democrat, in a June 8 editorial that generally was surprisingly conciliatory to the CRC’s first draft maps, nevertheless wrote:
As we’ve stated before, we would prefer to see a district that preserves more of the 6th district’s current base of Marin and Sonoma counties. But we also recognize that the commission is required to create districts of comparable population sizes and the current 6th Congressional District fell far short of the goal of districts of around 703,000 residents.
Actually, no, PD, as noted, Sonoma/Marin has too much population, not too little to meet district requirements. The main difficulty has to do with the big picture. Sonoma and Marin as not the only concerns of the CRC. The commissioners must do their best for every part of California, and if Sonoma and Marin were to remain relatively “as is,” other communities of interest in our state might lose out.
Since I myself dabbled in a little experimental map-making (using this app which permitted good approximations but not absolute exactness), I gained some understanding of the finer points of drawing district lines. A shift one place means changes elsewhere — possibly throughout the entire map. One does have to keep in mind city boundaries. If one keeps some counties whole others cannot be. Etc. Having gone through this exercise, I understood the problems created by attempting to keep Sonoma County whole. I also saw the problems of keeping our district pretty much the same as it has been.
So, when I viewed the CRC’s first draft, I was surprised at it, but in no way offended (as Lynn Woolsey and other career politicians obviously were). It is clear that the commission is independent-minded (as it should be) and its product demonstrates the commissioners’ determination to fulfill their mandate without regard to special interests. For this they deserve praise! No, the map they have rolled out is not my ideal (because Sonoma County is divided again…even more than before), but if this turns out to be the final form of the districts, I will not be unhappy. I can deal quite well with the idea of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Sonoma belonging to an inner-state district. And the commission did, in one sense, “listen” to those who on May 20 told them they wanted Sonoma and Marin to stay connected: a large geographic portion of Sonoma is connected with Marin in their map.
Would this redistricting result in more representation for conservatives? Probably not. Conservatives are not the dominant political group in California — we all know that. Still, the very act of changing district lines enough to force career politicos to work for reelection in a way that they have not had to do for years is a worthwhile outcome. There has been a great deal of media hoopla since these CRC maps appeared in rough form on June 1 and 2 and then officially, as noted already, last Friday. As the conclusion of this post, I will link a number of these articles for your perusal, but here let me just note a recurring idea in some analyses, namely that the CRC maps (state senate, assembly, and congressional) could result in additional Democrats being elected to offices. Perhaps. California has more Democrats than Republicans. However, not necessarily. New district lines could encourage new candidates of all parties. And the volatile economic climate could encourage voters to vote outside the usual party box. Outcomes can’t be easily predicted.
Another statement made by some in the media has to do with “losing” representation in certain areas. Yes, population has shifted somewhat in California. But the state as a whole did not lose any members of Congress. We had 53 before the 2010 census and we still do. In our area, if these draft maps become the permanent ones, we will still have two members of Congress representing different sections of Sonoma County.
Who will they be? We can hope that Lynn Woolsey will announce her retirement to open up the field of candidates. She said she would make an announcement on the subject this month. If the possibility of having a much enlarged district upsets her so much, all the more reason for her to step aside.
All in all, the CRC is doing its job conscientiously and transparently. No redistricting system or resulting plan can please everyone. With the first draft in the public arena, these citizen commissioners will receive tremendous pressure from many sides to change their maps. There probably will be some changes when the final ones are unveiled. However, overall, I think the commissioners should be strong. If they believe in their initial version, they should back it up and not cave to demands and criticism. They are doing their job to the best of their ability. Thank you, CRC.
However, the prescribed process continues. As noted in these two articles (first one and second one), the CRC now returns to conducting more public hearings to gauge the public’s reaction to the first draft and gather advice for revisions. One may also comment on the redistricting website.
Final maps are due on August 15, 2011.
Interesting articles on the subject:
From Watch Sonoma County (source also of the map image at the top of this post)