The maps above show the existing U.S. congressional district for Redlands… (Los Angeles Times )
Reporting from Los Angeles and Sacramento -- In a historic first, a citizens commission set new boundaries for California's congressional and legislative districts, reshaping the political landscape into more competitive terrain that could transform the state's usual dynamic of rancor and gridlock.
The new maps, which are intended to govern elections for most of the next decade, would force several entrenched partisan legislators — those who have been deep blue or deep red — to face more moderate political districts.
Some lawmakers, who had been in safe districts where reelection was all but guaranteed for party hard-liners, now find themselves facing a more mixed electorate in districts that are more "purple" than red or blue.
The commission's goal to more fairly reflect the state's existing communities and increasing diversity grew out of voters' frustration with gridlock in Sacramento, where even the most common-sense policies have been held hostage by hyper-partisan lawmakers.
The panel's work already has elected officials scurrying for seats in new districts or pondering retirement. Experts say the maps displace at least 60 elected officials in California from their districts or set them up for tough reelection battles.
Most seats in the state Legislature will remain firmly Republican or Democrat, with the Democrats positioned to capture the coveted two-thirds majority of one house of the Legislature. One drawback: Newly competitive districts could leave lawmakers more reliant on special interest campaign dollars to stay in office.
But in a statehouse where just a couple of votes can change the balance of power on key policy issues, even small changes could have a major impact.
"We lost a decade in terms of making policy in California," said Fred Keeley, a former Democratic assemblyman from Santa Cruz who helped draft the redistricting initiative. "Maybe this will give us a fighting chance at a better outcome."
The maps, which include new district boundaries for State Board of Equalization elections, were approved by the Citizens Redistricting Commission on Friday morning and now move into a 14-day public review period, during which only minor, technical changescan be made before the final commission vote Aug. 15.
"For the first time ever, Californians will know exactly who drew the maps, how they were drawn and for what reason, and they know their voices were heard," Helen Hutchison, vice president of the League of Women Voters of California, told the commission during its meeting Friday.
But challenges loom. Some have vowed to undo the new districts through the courts or by referendum.
"It's not over yet," said U.S. Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Diamond Bar), whose home was placed in the same district as fellow Republican Ed Royce of Fullerton. "Judges will make the decision…. What they've done to so many districts out there makes no sense."
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) — dean of California House Republicans, whose home was thrown into the same district as a Democratic incumbent — said: "I believe this will not be the final chapter in the 2011 redistricting saga."
The new maps could cost Republicans a handful of seats in Congress, as well as enough seats in the state Senate for Democrats to command the two-thirds majority that would give them complete control of the house, and enough votes to pass tax measures.
California Republican Party officials say they have not decided what, if any, action to take. A challenge to the district lines could result in the courts redrawing the boundaries. But that carries a risk: There is no guarantee the courts wouldn't draw lines even worse for the GOP.
At a news conference Friday at the state Capitol, commissioners said they would aggressively defend their plan against legal challenges.
"In complying with the law, the commission is confident that these maps will prevail against any and all legal challenges," said Chairwoman Connie Galambos Malloy. "We also believe that the new districts will be upheld in the court of public opinion."
Those who championed redistricting reform as a means of easing the dysfunction in Sacramento are optimistic about the possibility of an emerging purple power.
Historically, moderates have helped tip the scales on critical issues in the Legislature. They can kill legislation by withholding key committee votes and cut deals in tax debates.
The new maps already appear to be influencing some lawmakers.
This year, while both parties dug in their heels over the state budget, five Republican senators, facing the prospect of more competitive districts, bucked party leadership and the majority of their GOP colleagues to negotiate with Gov. Jerry Brown on a proposal to renew billions of dollars in expiring tax hikes. In return, they sought an overhaul of public pensions, a cap on state spending and a loosening of environmental regulations.