In the 2010 elections, Californians stood fast against the GOP-tea bagger tide that swamped other states. California voters elected Democrats to every statewide office and retained Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat Democrats won all these seats but one by double digits. They also added a seat or two in the Legislature.
In years past, these gains would have put California Democrats in charge of the state’s decennial, post-Census redistricting of congressional and legislative districts. It’s also more than likely that the Democrats would have continued the bipartisan practice of carving up the state to, first, protect its majority *and, second, protect incumbents in both parties — insofar as the second objective did not interfere with the prime.
Under the backroom scratch-backing system, it is true that the California GOP would have paid for its losses and for the related fact that GOP registration is down to a historic low of 31 percent in the state. The party would likely have lost a few more seats in the Legislature, but its 19 seats in the U.S. House delegation would likely have remained intact.
But the maps are being redrawn under a radically different redistricting system this year, because in 2008 California voters, in their infinite wisdom, decided via a ballot initiative to hand the responsibility for redistricting to a new 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission — five Democrats, five Republicans and four unaffiliated.
That’s right. Redistricting for the largest state in the union has been handled by a committee of amateurs.
It’s fair to say that political insiders assumed that the CCDC would redraw the map to the advantage of Republicans. But that assumption turned out to be wrong. The redrawn maps, which were released on Friday, revealed a reconfiguration that, while not as radical as it could have been, spells trouble for the GOP. It is, as a GOP political analyst described it, “cause for full-out panic … This is musical chairs with switchblades.”
While there are a few redrawn districts that could put Democratic seats in play, the new map is likely to cause a fundamental reorganization of the GOP, one way or another. Like its counterparts in other states, the California Republican Party has become radicalized over the years, shedding moderates by the millions.
Now, with fewer districts drawn around pockets of radical right-wing voters, the GOP will have to choose between moderating its positions, particularly on taxes, or sticking with its current, unpopular positions and losing so many seats in Sacramento that Democrats finally achieve super-majorities in the Legislature:
Between now and next year’s elections, Republicans must scramble to reinvent themselves, recruit more moderate candidates and find common ground with more Californians if they are to be at all relevant in Golden State politics, according to independent experts and partisan analysts alike. Then voters in the considerable number of new swing districts that the maps show could opt to elect moderate Republicans just as easily as centrist Democrats.
In fact, Democrats could have a smaller registration advantage than they now do in some proposed districts — and would need to win those seats to reach a super-majority in the Legislature. But the stakes are much higher for Republicans, who have been losing ground as hardliners have tightened their grip on the state GOP. Less than a third of California voters, 30.9 percent, are registered Republicans, down from 39 percent two decades ago.
Republicans alienated the state’s growing Latino population in the 1990s by backing Proposition 187, a ballot measure created to deny most taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants. Years of inflammatory rhetoric compounded the damage.
Analysts predict that as many as five of the 19 Republicans in the 53-seat California congressional delegation could lose their seats — which would put congressional Democrats well on their way to taking the 25 seats they need to gain the majority in 2012.
One of those Republicans is a member of the House leadership. Rep. David Dreier, the best-known closeted gay Republican House member, who serves as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, could lose his seat due to demographic changes in his home base.