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Reformers Assail Redistricting Process : Politics: Two experts on reapportionment say the system is stacked against newcomers. They want to change the way the lines are drawn.

February 11, 1990|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Meet Alan Heslop and Leroy Hardy, reformed "datagogues."

The oddly matched pair, senior researchers at the Rose Institute in Claremont, are experts on political reapportionment. Armed with census tract profiles and political data, the two have faced off in some of California's most notorious partisan brawls to draw realigned congressional and legislative districts.

Both have worked for the "gerrycrats," legislators who concoct the octopus-shaped gerrymandered districts that, by most accounts, have served to ensure that incumbents get reelected. Heslop is a George Bush Republican, Hardy a Jesse Jackson Democrat.

Now the two want to reform the state's once-a-decade, line-drawing process. They want to take reapportionment out of the hands of the "datagogues" and "gerrycrats" (Hardy's and Heslop's own terms), make it more representative of the state's communities and shake up the status quo.

"I think we've both gagged at what's been going on," said Heslop, 51, a tall, lanky man with a shock of white hair. "The system has become more and more abusive, more and more corrupt."

The most recent redistricting, in 1982, was "unconscionable," said Hardy, 62, a short, husky Democrat, with wire-rimmed glasses. "The worst cases represent the murder of representative government."

Partly, they said, the redistricting process in California has suffered from the influence of men like themselves. So abundant and sophisticated is the data that is available now to the political technicians, so fine-tuned are the strategies devised by incumbents to protect their domains, that newcomers do not have a chance, they said.

"Why should the voter have to play in a game that's stacked?" Heslop asked.

Heslop was a senior consultant to the Republican legislative leadership in 1971, when then-Gov. Ronald Reagan vetoed a Legislature-approved redistricting plan. Hardy was a consultant to the California congressional delegation from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, working on a series of controversial remappings.

The two, who have relinquished their role as party consultants, see themselves as disinterested reformers now. But their practical experiences have given them authority, they said. "One problem with political scientists is that too many are removed from politics," Hardy said.

"The proposals that Leroy and I have developed do not come from the ivory tower," Heslop added.

By federal law, the Legislature must draw new district lines every 10 years to reflect the population changes recorded by the U.S. Census. The next census count will take place this year; redistricting will be done in 1991.

In the old days, it was done with street maps and educated hunches, Hardy said. The majority party in the Legislature, which dictates the terms of redistricting, tried to draw lines that maximized its number of representatives and protected its incumbents against challengers.

"Back in 1961, you'd draw a line over to, say, Vermont Avenue and try to estimate the population (in a would-be district)," Hardy said. "Now, you can be precise about exactly how many Republicans and Democrats, blacks or Latinos, there are in a given area. It's not good enough? Then why not extend the line over to Normandie Avenue?"

"You can do it in minutes," said Heslop.

For the past 17 years, the Rose Institute, a political research department at Claremont McKenna College, has been the source of the raw data that the "redistricters" have used. For example, it supplied the data used in 1981 to draw new districts for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and it provided data to the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to initiate a voting rights suit challenging the legality of those districts.

The institute, which some Democrats have accused of being a "Republican think tank," is a modest little suite of offices on East 9th Street, with painted cinder-block walls and video terminals laid out on long tables.

But its reach can extend across the state or it can stretch back a couple of decades.

Research Assistant Darren Schreiber spreads out a transparent map overlay and, using an electronic wand, circumscribes a large swath of the San Gabriel Valley. He punches some numbers into a keyboard, the computer chatters and burps and a set of statistics rolls across a video screen.

This is politics in the 1990s--bolstered with instantaneously available demographic and political data.

The young man has outlined an area, stretching from Monterey Park to El Monte, which could become the heart of a new Latino-dominated County Board of Supervisors district. According to data displayed on the screen, 58.9% of its population is Latino and 63.3% of its registered voters are Democrats.

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