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Officials take stance on remapping

The state's congressional Republicans ask the governor to include the House in plans. Pelosi, who favors a national standard, vows a fight.

June 27, 2007|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California's congressional Republicans united Tuesday in support of independent redistricting, leaving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats as holdouts on a nonpartisan redrawing of the state's House districts.

All 19 Republican representatives signed a letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to include Congress, along with the Legislature, in pending plans to revamp the way political boundaries are determined. "It is vital that any reform undertaken must include congressional districts," the letter said.

"We're putting people before politics," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who gathered the 19 signatures.

In the past, some in the state's congressional GOP delegation have opposed independent redistricting for the House.

The united stance puts the Republicans at odds with Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who has said that letting average citizens, rather than state legislators, perform the once-a-decade task of redoing congressional districts could jeopardize her party's tenuous majority in Congress.

Legislative leaders say she has also warned that she would raise millions to defeat any redistricting overhaul that included Congress.

The governor and legislative leaders are pondering several redistricting proposals, one of which they hope to put before voters on the February presidential primary ballot. Three of the four pending measures would include Congress.

Signing the letter was an about-face for a few Republicans. Two years ago, when their party held the majority in the House, Reps. John T. Doolittle of Roseville and David Dreier of San Dimas urged Schwarzenegger to exempt Congress from a ballot measure under which retired judges would have drawn the political maps.

Voters defeated that measure.

Dreier and Doolittle did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

At stake is a complicated task with powerful, long-lasting effects on who gets elected to the Legislature and Congress, how hard they must work to get elected and which party wields power.

Political boundaries can be drawn to distribute Democratic and Republican voters evenly within districts and force candidates to campaign mightily. Or they can be drawn with such a preponderance of voters of one stripe that politicians are practically guaranteed reelection.

California's current political map was drawn in 2001 by state lawmakers, who virtually locked in the existing balance of power. In the 2004 and 2006 general elections, only one congressional seat and no legislative seats changed parties.

Schwarzenegger argues that the current situation amounts to politicians picking their voters. He has said repeatedly that both congressional and legislative boundaries should be drawn by an independent commission that will not contort maps for partisan advantage.

The letter from Republicans "really shores up" the governor's position, and isolates Pelosi and other Democrats, said Assembly Republican Leader Michael Villines of Clovis. "I think it puts a lot of pressure on them to justify this broken system," he said.

Pelosi prefers a national standard, so all states use independent redistricting commissions, said her spokesman Drew Hammill. "We would have to see the specifics of any California proposal, but she maintains a strong preference for a national standard," he said.

State lawmakers are expected to hammer out a redistricting measure with Schwarzenegger later this summer, after they complete a budget for the next fiscal year.

The only proposal in the Legislature that would exempt Congress from independent redistricting -- SCA 9 -- was written by state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield). He said he agreed with Pelosi that if politics were stripped from redistricting in California while other states skewed districts to protect incumbents, the Golden State's clout could suffer.

"The U.S. House of Representatives is a national body, and the Congress functions based on seniority and majority," Ashburn said. "I do not want California disadvantaged in any way."

There is also the practical matter of Pelosi's opposition, Ashburn said. Remapping is such an arcane, confusing matter to voters that any campaign against a redistricting ballot item would probably kill the measure, he added.

If Congress "is included in the proposal next February, it will be defeated," he said.

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