“Between the lines: Hidden partisans try to influence California’s independent redistricting “

From CalMatters:

California congressional districts are drawn by an independent citizens commission, but it’s hearing from candidates and party officials who don’t disclose their partisan affiliations.

In August, Christopher Rodriguez phoned into an online meeting of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, the 14 volunteers who will draw new congressional and legislative maps that will be used for the next decade. 

Rodriguez argued that no matter how the commission determines the state’s 52 congressional districts, Camp Pendleton, the sprawling Marine Corps base in north San Diego County, should be grouped together with the nearby cities of Fallbrook and Oceanside to keep “our military population together.” 

If necessary, he argued, the commission should jettison cities farther down the coast, including Del Mar and Encinitas, which are “just completely foreign to us here in North County. They don’t come up here, we don’t go down there.”

Rodriguez introduced himself as “small business owner,” a “Marine Corp combat veteran” and “a father of seven.”…

He neglected to mention that he’s also an Oceanside city council member — and a Republican running for Congress in 2022 whose prospects could be buoyed by a district that is anchored around the Marine base and his hometown and that excludes the Democratic areas to the south. The current 49th District, represented by Democrat Mike Levin, is 36% Democratic and 33% Republican by voter registration, but the San Diego County portion is about 38% Democratic.  …

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 11, handing the once-in-a-decade task of drawing 40 state Senate and 80 Assembly districts to the independent commission. Two years later, voters added the state’s 53 congressional districts to the commission’s duties.

Its task is more difficult this year because for the first time ever, California lost a U.S. House seat after the 2020 census. Its work may also be more consequential: Democrats hold a slim 220-212 majority in the U.S. House, while Republican-leaning states are gaining seats after the census….

As early as the California citizen commission’s first redistricting following the 2010 census, it became clear how difficult it is to completely remove politics from the process. As detailed by ProPublica, California Democrats organized a statewide campaign, disguised as grassroots activism, by drafting a small army of advocates, elected leaders and innocuously-named nonprofits to lobby for districts to favor the party. …

Despite the potential pitfalls, public participation is a key selling point for the commission. 

“It’s a thousand times better than a dude like me going in to meet with the state’s top elected leaders smoking cigars and drawing lines,” said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which provides voter tracking services to both Democratic and Republican campaigns.

“The most important thing is for the commission to have a clear set of standards and values,” he added. “If you have good footing as to what you want to achieve in the redistricting process and what kind of values you have, it’s hard for someone to trick you into drawing bad maps.” 

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