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Close to Home: Equity should not be left to chance

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

Every 10 years, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission creates new district maps for the state Senate, Assembly, Board of Equalization and U.S. House of Representatives to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of people. Given the population shifts over the past 10 years, most districts had to significantly change to ensure equal representation and fair maps across the state.

When I applied to serve on the commission for 2020, my goal was to ensure that district lines were drawn fairly and communities that have been historically excluded would have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. I’m filled with immense gratitude and feel privileged to have been able to serve alongside a group of leaders who are equally committed to ensuring fair election maps.

Pedro Toledo
Pedro Toledo

As the chief administrative officer of a community clinic, I was able to contribute my experience in health care to the experience of other commissioners. I have firsthand knowledge that a healthy, inclusive, representative democracy is crucial to maintaining good physical and mental health. An estimated 80% of health outcomes are shaped by social determinants of health, such as housing, wages, education and gender and racial equity.

And as the son of a farmworker, I know representation matters. Growing up, I recognized myself in the faces of grocery store workers, farmworkers, vineyard workers and in the many other essential jobs immigrants fill. But I never saw myself reflected in executives, and certainly not on the walls, websites and brochures depicting the boards of directors of corporations in our communities. And while that has changed a little, it still falls far short of what one would expect, given our demographics.

The members of the 2020 commission reflect the diversity of California. I am unaware of any state legislative body or commission charged with redistricting that is as diverse as our group. The majority is comprised of women and people of color — four Asians, four Latinos, three African Americans, three who identify as gay men and two members who have physical disabilities. Furthermore, the commission is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four unaffiliated voters.

At a time when it is difficult for politicians of different parties to work together on the pressing needs of our country, we unanimously redistricted the most populous, most geographically and demographically complicated state in the nation, and we did so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our diversity, mutual respect and commitment to put Californians first — before our own interests and preferences — allowed us to successfully complete this critical work together.

We conducted the most open and public state redistricting effort in the history of California. We drew district maps in an open and transparent manner that did more than merely allow public input — we actively sought and encouraged broad public participation in the process through a massive education and outreach program.

The fruits of collaboration speak for themselves. The commission made history when the proposed district maps were unanimously adopted.

The final maps include 22 Assembly districts where the Latino Citizen Voting Age Population — or CVAP — is greater than 50%; two Assembly districts with an Asian CVAP greater than 50%; 11 state Senate districts with a Latino CVAP greater than 50%; and 16 congressional districts with a Latino CVAP greater than 50%.

The addition of three more Latino majority districts in California was fueled by growth of the Latino population over the past decade. Nearly a third of the state’s 52 new congressional districts have a majority of Latino citizens. The increase in the number of Asian citizens contributed to more representation for Asians as well.

Commissioners worked to ensure that all communities had fair, just and equitable representation. We did so in a transparent manner, while working hard to engage all communities, especially those who have been historically excluded in the process.

I am proud of the work the commission has done, but none of it would have been possible without active participation from thousands of Californians who engaged in the process. Thank you for your engagement and for helping us to make a more just, inclusive, fair and equitable state that, I hope, will serve as a model for others. Engagement in the political process will help to increase equity within our communities. Equity should not be left to chance.

Pedro Toledo, the chief administrative officer of Petaluma Health Center, is a member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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