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Ethnic coalition backs Knabe in face of redistricting plan

Latinos seek to revise county supervisor's district to create a Latino majority. But an ethnic coalition backs the lawmaker and calls on minorities not to turn against one another.

August 10, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe's political future could be in peril under a redistricting plan that would add many more Latinos to his district.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe's political future could… (Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

A move to give Latinos a better chance of winning a second seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took a turn Tuesday when an ethnically diverse group packed a meeting room to defend Don Knabe, the longtime official whose predominantly white district could be split under a proposed redistricting plan.

Latino activists are threatening to sue the county if new lines are not drawn to shift the voting majority to Latinos. One group that was particularly vocal was a coalition including Cambodian residents in Long Beach and mayors from cities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, who complained that the new lines would take their section of the county away from Knabe, who they said represented them well.

"Do not isolate one ethnic group against the other," said Raymond Chavarria of the United Cambodian Community group, protesting a proposal to split Long Beach and its Cambodian neighborhoods.

Knabe's political future could be in peril under a redistricting plan that would add many more Latinos to his district. Currently, among eligible voters, Knabe's district is 42% white and 32% Latino. A proposal to shift the district eastward deeper into the eastern San Gabriel Valley would alter the composition of eligible voters to 52% Latino and 23% white. Knabe is a Republican; Latino voters tend to be Democrats.

Knabe unveiled his own map Tuesday to move more Latinos into his district from fellow Supervisor Gloria Molina's. But the move did not sway Latino groups.

"These are changes on the fringes," said Steven A. Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for MALDEF, a Latino civil rights organization.

With Los Angeles County now 48% Latino, MALDEF and Molina have argued that failing to adequately reflect Latino political power violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Latino and civil rights groups won a federal lawsuit in 1990 when supervisors redrew district boundaries to protect incumbents at the expense of Latino challengers. The court redrew district boundaries, paving the way for Molina to be elected — the first minority to win election in a supervisor's race in more than a century.

"I want a champion for the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside, just like they have champions for the Westside," Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) said as he argued for a second Latino district.

A committee appointed by the supervisors voted to recommend a redistricting map largely preserving the status quo.

Delegates appointed by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, a Republican from Glendale, rejected the Latino plan in a committee vote.

Appointees of the other white supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, a Democrat from the Westside, also rejected the Latino plan.

The question now is what maps the five supervisors will propose themselves, something they must do by Aug. 16, and whether any plan will get the required support of at least four of them.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is black, said Tuesday, "We need to do all that we can to comply with the Voting Rights Act," while also avoiding a lawsuit. Supervisors have until 5 p.m. on Aug. 16 to submit their maps for public discussion, which would continue Sept. 6.

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