Initial selections were made today for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the body tasked with drawing boundaries for the U.S. Congress, State Senate, State Assembly, and the Board of Equalization. This fourteen-member commission comprises five Democrats, five Republicans, and four belonging to other parties or no party at all.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is chosen in two phases. First, eight members are selected by random draw from a group of finalists. Those eight members then choose six more members from the group of finalists. In order to agree on a final map, three members from each group must agree. The members chosen today were:
- Trena Turner (San Joaquin)
- Sara Sadhwani (Los Angeles)
- J. Ray Kennedy (San Bernardino)
- Derric Taylor (Los Angeles)
- Jane Anderson (Alameda)
- Neal Fornaciari (San Joaquin)
- Antonio Le Mons (Los Angeles)
- Isra Ahmad (Santa Clara)
A truly diverse group
If there is one thing these commissioners can be lauded for, it is the diversity of the group. These commissioners truly represent a broad cross-section of American life, including those in historically underrepresented groups. They include a first-generation Muslim-American, an African-American Police Officer, and a gay man who helped to develop HIV/AIDS education.
Similarly, many of these nominees appear to be broadly qualified. Particularly impressive is J. Ray Kennedy, who listed in his application that he has worked for 30 years helping countries around the world administer fair elections. This effort includes work with the United Nations, where he helped administer the 2004 elections in Afghanistan – the first post-Taliban elections in that country.
While the California Citizens Redistricting Commission contains no Hispanic members at the moment, it is widely assumed that Hispanic members will be chosen by the eight newly-appointed commissioners.
The flaws of party affiliation
While the California Citizens Redistricting Commission has a strict rule on how many people can be affiliated with each party, this goes off of party registration – a measure that can be deceptive in determining how people actually vote. As our friends at the Crystal Ball identified, many states actually have stark differences in how they vote compared to their party identification. Because of this, someone can be registered with one party, but actually vote predominantly exclusively for the other.
In many ways, party affiliation is actually a fairly poor method of finding fair representatives of a party, and this is where Democrats appear to have hit the jackpot. As part of its transparency efforts, all initial applications for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission can be found online. Our research indicates that the two NPP/other commissioners likely lean to the left politically while at least one of the Republican commissioners appears to be soft or idiosyncratic.
The preeminent example on the Republican side is Jane Andersen. Andersen resides in Berkeley, one of the most progressive cities in the country; only 2.9% of Berkeley voters are registered Republicans and Jill Stein received more votes there than Donald Trump did. Of course, living in a heavily Democratic area doesn’t preclude Andersen from being a Republican. However, her application offers nothing but red flags to the CA GOP.
Her application indicates an idiosyncratic bent within the party: she has donated to NARAL and Planned Parenthood, as well as the World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund. This is far more characteristic of a liberal Berkeley resident than a Republican. Her recommendations follow a similar pattern, lauding her commitment to diversity and inclusion, and while these are absolutely worthy traits for any nominee to a redistricting commission, they represent a far more liberal bent than one would expect from a Republican.
In addition, she wrote in her application that “the 2010 commission did the Herculean task of drawing, for the first time, non-politically based maps.” However, as Elections Daily has discussed before, California’s 2010 commission was subtly manipulated by lobbying groups. While this may be out of the common knowledge of average Californians, it still should concern the California Republican Party. Equally concerning is her statement that “unusual shapes” in districts can be acceptable.
The three Democrats on the commission, in contrast, show little indication of a similar idiosyncratic strength. Trena Turner is a pastor at Praise Church in Stockton, California and was heavily involved in the creation of Faith in the Valley, a faith-based, left-leaning political organization, while Kennedy supported Pete Buttigieg for President and has advocated for improved voting technologies.
Sara Sadhwani is the most interesting of the bunch – a professor of Political Science, her work is well-known and focuses on Asian involvement in politics. She is clearly an expert in the field of elections analysis.
On paper, none of these commissioners appear as likely to defect as Andersen does, meaning Democrats might well have a decisive lock on their end of the commission while Republicans are split.
Independents that aren’t quite independent
Part of the issue with identifying true independents is that many independent voters actually have a decided partisan lean. For example, 55.5% of Massachusetts voters are registered as independents compared to 32.9% that are Democrats and 10.3% that are Republicans. However, these independents lean Democratic, as indicated by the dominance of Democrats in the state.
California appears to have a similar story, as both commissioners that are unaffiliated with a political party appear to lean to the left politically. Isra Ahmad is employed in the Division of Equity & Social Justice (DESJ) in Santa Clara County and cited her protests against President Trump’s controversial Muslim ban in her application.
Antonio Le Mons, the other unaffiliated commissioner, also appears to have a decisive lean to the left. Le Mons is an LGBT rights advocate and his Facebook page likes indicate support for Bernie Sanders; Le Mons follows Sanders as well as The Digital Left, a pro-Sanders organization, and has posted about his support for Sanders several times.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with independent commissioners having a political bent. This is to be expected. However, the reality is that the commission almost certainly consists of at least five leaning to the left and, at most, three leaning to the right (possibly fewer if Anderson is indeed a liberal).
Will it matter?
In order to pass a map, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will need support from three members of each of the three factions. To some degree, there will need to be a consensus. However, it becomes substantially easier to reach a consensus when you only need to convince two additional Republicans instead of three or one additional independent instead of three.
To be clear: there is no evidence that any of the commissioners are corrupt or have lied. There is no indication that these choices will be biased or that they will certainly produce an unfair map. It’s entirely possible that the commissioners will create fair and representative maps for California. However, on paper, the commission certainly appears to have a left-leaning majority, and that could have major implications.