Diversity lacking among applicants that would redraw California’s political boundaries, group says

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California’s search for 14 citizens to draw the boundaries for federal and state legislative districts has generated more than 5,600 applicants, including 66 from Sonoma County, and a protest from a coalition of groups alleging the pool of applicants lacks diversity.

The 23-member coalition, which includes California Common Cause, has asked State Auditor Elaine Howie to extend the application period that started June 10 and ends Aug. 9 for nearly two months, ending Sept. 30, to allow more time to recruit more minority applicants for seats on the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

“We would like the commission to reflect the diversity of the state,” said Kati Phillips, a spokeswoman for California Common Cause, the nonpartisan group that led the campaign to create the commission in 2008.

In its analysis of the 5,657 applicants who have been deemed tentatively eligible by the auditor’s office, the coalition found the pool “is not fully representative of the diversity and talent of California,” the letter said.

Whites were overrepresented, with nearly 70% of the applicant pool compared with 48% of the state’s citizen voting age population. Latinos accounted for 11% of the pool, less than half of their 29% share of the voting age population.

African Americans matched their 7% share of both categories.

There are no legal requirements for gender or ethnic mix on the commission, Phillips said.

A nine-month application period in 2010 drew nearly 30,000 initial applicants, reduced to about 6,000 in the second round and ending with 14 commissioners — “a group of talented, community-minded men and women from across the state who represented the best and brightest that California had to offer,” the letter said.

The State Auditor’s report on Monday showed strong gender, ethnic and partisan imbalances in the applicant pool, with two-thirds (67%) white, 12% Hispanic/Latino and single-digit percentages of African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native and others.

Men comprised 61% of applicants, women 36% and 1% non-binary.

Democrats accounted for nearly half (49%) of potential commission appointees, with 29% Republicans, 16% no party preference and 6% other party affiliations.

The auditor’s office, a non-partisan entity independent of the governor’s office and lawmakers, is managing the commission selection process.

Phillips said Wednesday the coalition had not received a response from the auditor’s office.

Californians who have been registered to vote for five years and have cast ballots in at least two of the past three statewide elections are eligible — along with a few other conditions — to serve on the commission that will use 2020 Census results to draw maps for congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts, as well as districts for five state Board of Equalization members who deal with tax matters.

California is one of 16 states that have independent redistricting commissions, and only two — California and Michigan — exclude politicians from selecting the members and approving their work, according to Common Cause.

The use of citizen commissions has grown substantially in recent years in an attempt to limit gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to benefit one party or class.

District lines are revised every 10 years to comply with federal standards that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

After incumbent parties retained every single state Assembly, Senate, and congressional seat in the 2004 election, California voters approved ballot measures in 2008 and 2010 approving the citizens commission’s power to draw state and congressional district boundaries.

The 2020 commission will face a challenge in coping with the likely loss of a congressional seat that will alter the political map, emboldening challengers to run against incumbents, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.

In the North Bay, population shifts are likely to prompt new boundaries that may impact politicians seeking re-election and “voters who may or may not know much about” their next representative, he said.

Napa and Sonoma counties, in particular, may see changes based on shifting populations, McCuan said.

“All of this sets up a battle royale of political uncertainty amidst changing demographics and electoral uncertainty,” he said.

Rob Muelrath, a Santa Rosa political consultant, said redistricting might alter the borders of the congressional districts represented by Democratic Congressmen Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, but wouldn’t make any substantive difference.

“You can’t make a Republican district here in Sonoma County,” he said.

The multi-county districts held by Thompson and Huffman are both have about 50% Democratic voters, 18% Republican and 26% no party preference.

The commission will consist of five registered Democrats, five Republicans and four who are registered with no party preference or a third political party.

State law also precludes members who have various conflicts, including having been appointed to, elected or been a candidate for a congressional or state office or served as an officer, employee or consultant to a political party or a candidate’s campaign committee.

An applicant review panel consisting of three independent auditors will select 120 of the most qualified applicants, personally interview them all in Sacramento and narrow the field to 60 applicants, equally divided into three pools by political party or no party affiliation.

The Senate president pro tem, Senate minority leader, Assembly speaker and Assembly minority leader are individually permitted to remove up to two applicants from each pool.

The state auditor will randomly draw from the remaining pools three Democratic applicants, three Republicans and two who are no party and third party members.

Those eight commissioners will select the remaining six members.

The application deadline is Aug. 9 and citizens may apply online and get information at shapecaliforniasfuture.auditor.ca.gov.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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