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Lining Up to Redraw the Political Map


Now that the numbers are out, the jockeying begins.

The release of the 2000 census data officially inaugurates redistricting season--a mad scramble by political parties and pressure groups to carve up California to suit their needs.

The state's population grew more slowly than it has in decades, meaning that there will be only one additional congressional seat in California--the smallest gain in 80 years--to accommodate an increasingly diverse array of interests.

Democrats, who are firmly in control of the statehouse and therefore of the redrawing of California's political map, will have to decide how aggressively they want to act to increase their power in Sacramento and Washington. In the past, the party in power has resorted to tactics such as collapsing two districts held by the opposing party into one, forcing popular incumbents to run against each other.

In Orange County, large influxes of Latinos and Asians in the central and northern parts of the county have set the stage for at least some political changes in this longtime stronghold for the Republican Party. Democrats on Friday said they are confidant they'll be able to capture the Assembly district now represented by Republican Ken Maddox of Garden Grove. They also hope to nab one or two more legislative seats by 2004.

In Los Angeles, the school board, county Board of Supervisors and City Council could all be rejiggered to represent shifts in population favoring increasingly Latino and Asian neighborhoods.

Each of those possibilities is freighted with potentially weighty ethnic and political implications, however, as one group's gain often comes at another's expense.

The Assembly and state Senate must complete redistricting by September. For the first time, the census data is available online to anyone with a computer, and the Legislature is drawing up plans for the required public hearings. But much of the work will be done behind closed doors, as experts in the arcane art of reapportionment scramble the state's political map.

"What we have is a situation where we have to figure out 53 sets of lines for the House, 40 for the Senate and 80 for the Assembly," said veteran Democratic political operative Kam Kuwata, who has been hired as a redistricting consultant for the lower house. "There is a degree to which you have to tear it all apart before you can rebuild it."

Term Limits May Yield Redistricting Warfare

The two biggest factors, analysts agree, will be term limits and California's new designation as a state without a racial majority.

During the last redistricting, in 1991, term limits had just been approved by voters and the impact was still several years off. But now many of the legislators redrawing district lines will be forced from office and may be looking ahead to their next elected position--which could influence how they redraw political boundaries.

Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-San Bernardino), one of the few Sacramento legislators who was around for the prior redistricting fight, predicts that term limits will place this one in the record books.

"I always thought it was vicious before, but this is going to make the past wars look like the WWF [World Wrestling Federation]," he said. "For the first time, senators will be looking at the Assembly plans, Assembly members will be looking even more at the Senate plans, and both will be looking at the congressional plans. The people in Washington will be looking at Sacramento with fear."

The state's complex racial breakdown makes this redistricting round potentially the even more dizzying.

"The significant changes in California's population increase competition among minorities for political power and how the lines are drawn are going to have an impact on that," said Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP political consultant and publisher of the Target Book, a district-by-district guide to state races. "There will be more ethnic tensions this reapportionment than probably we've ever seen before."

Lack of Majority Could Mean a New Harmony Sizing up the new census numbers, some experts come to the opposite conclusion. Some hope that divvying up the state among an increasing number of racial groups could be more harmonious than expected.

"People are going to have to play a new role here, because no one group is going to be able to dictate what happens," said Geraldine Washington, president of the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "We don't have any majorities here."

The census found that Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in California. Nancy Yu, a research associate with the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Center in Los Angeles, said that the main focus of her group will be "with the increasing ethnic diversity in California, creating districts in all communities."

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