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Loretta Sanchez's seat appears safe under new map

The state's redistricting commission has redrawn the boundaries of the Democrat's district, putting many Republican-leaning Vietnamese Americans in another section. Some in the Vietnamese community complain that their vote is being diluted.

August 01, 2011|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Fleet Reserve Assn. member Roger Hamerlinck, right, shares a light moment with U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, left, during the 8th Annual Orange County Veterans Fair in early July.
Fleet Reserve Assn. member Roger Hamerlinck, right, shares a light moment… (John W. Adkisson, Orange…)

Statewide, the work of the Citizens Redistricting Commission has sent politicians into a flurry. Some find themselves in the same district as a colleague and many others face the difficult prospect of running in unfamiliar turf.

But this isn't the case in central Orange County. According to congressional district maps released Friday, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez can rest relatively easy.

Her new district encompasses most of Santa Ana, parts of Garden Grove, Anaheim, Westminster and Fullerton. Previous drafts of the maps gave the area, which is home to Disneyland and a heavy population of immigrants, a slight Republican edge.

The latest maps, expected to be approved by the commission Aug. 15, keep the Latino voting population nearly the same as in her current district, but edge out some of the Asian American voters by splitting Little Saigon.

"Loretta Sanchez got her way," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book.

Her office did not return repeated requests for comment.

In the newly minted 46th Congressional District, Latinos make up 41% of registered voters, down somewhat from the 44% in Sanchez's current district, according to figures provided by Hoffenblum. A bigger change is the loss of Vietnamese American voters, who typically vote Republican, Hoffenblum said.

"Most of that Vietnamese vote was taken away," Hoffenblum said.

In 1996, Sanchez surprised conservative Orange County when she ousted longtime incumbent Republican Robert K. Dornan. The victory by the Latina and then-unknown businesswoman signaled a shift in the status quo of politics in the region. Sanchez has since become known as a formidable fundraiser with a penchant for sending memorable holiday cards. (One featured her on a motorcycle with her white fluffy cat.)

Until last year, Sanchez had won by wide margins since first defeating Dornan. Still, she worked hard to keep her post, the only congressional seat in Orange County that is held by a Democrat. In November, she battled to overcome a strong challenge from Republican Van Tran, a Vietnamese American. He had talked about running again in 2012.

The new lines extend the Democratic, strongly Latino district farther east, adding a chunk of Anaheim and Santa Ana. But the new map also excludes portions of Garden Grove and Westminster, a change that reduces the share of Vietnamese American registered voters from 15% to 7%, Hoffenblum said.

Some of those voters have been lumped into a district that includes Long Beach, a move that makes some in the Little Saigon community angry.

"The voice of the Vietnamese American community has been diluted," said Tran, a Westminster attorney.

He said the maps split the community of Little Saigon, which includes Westminster, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and a portion of Santa Ana, into two, and that makes "very little sense."

Tony Lam, of Westminster, who was the first Vietnamese American elected to a city council in U.S. history, called the new district boundaries "disappointing."

"That's why we gather in the Little Saigon area," Lam said, "to be together, to help each other when in need."

But for Sanchez, it looks as if the Latino base is intact, said Fred Smoller, who directs the master's of public administration program at Brandman University in Irvine.

Yet Sanchez was able to win votes in the Vietnamese community, he said. Her secret?

"Very simple: hard work," Smoller said. He added that she makes herself known in the community.

"It's not just about getting known with her flashy Christmas cards. She and her staff work very hard."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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