A member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commissionbelieves that the commission broke the law, failed to uphold an open and transparent decision-making process and used political motives in drawing California’s new state and federal legislative districts, according to an exclusive, in-depth interview with CalWatchDog.com.
“This commission simply traded the partisan, backroom gerrymandering by the Legislature for partisan, backroom gerrymandering by average citizens,” Commissioner Mike Ward said in an interview with CalWatchDog.com on Sunday night. “This commission became the Citizens Smoke-Filled Room, where average citizen commissioners engaged in dinner-table deals and partisan gerrymandering — the very problems that this commission was supposed to prevent.”
Ward, who was the lone member of the commission to oppose all of the commission’s proposed maps at its July 29 meeting, will outline his opposition in a detailed statement to be delivered at the commission’s press conference later today. An advance copy of the commissioner’s remarks was obtained exclusively by CalWatchDog.com and is reprinted below.
“Commission broke the law”
In the remarks, Ward stated bluntly, “This commission broke the law,” by failing to apply the Voting Rights Act to congressional districts in Los Angeles County. The Voting Rights Act, which is one of the commission’s mandated criteria for drawing district lines, requires that all possible “majority-minority” districts be drawn. In Los Angeles, African-Americans were split across three congressional districts instead of being drawn into one or two majority-minority districts.
Ward also attacked the commission for adopting the same partisan gerrymandering techniques of the state Legislature.
“Instead of fixing the redistricting process that politicians had so corrupted, we ended up doing the same thing as the politicians,” Ward said.
As evidence of Ward’s claim, he referred to the infamous “ribbon of shame district” that drew public outcry and was routinely cited by proponents as the need for creating an independent redistricting panel.
“Ten years ago, there was a ribbon of shame district, and we have another one. This time, the ribbon of shame district is a Los Angeles-based coastal congressional district held together by a tiny strip of land near LAX,” Ward explaind in his statement. “At the Senate level, there’s the Orange County hook, reaching out from Cal Poly Pomona and grabbing Cypress, Stanton and La Palma.”
To support his contention that the commission engaged in the improper drawing of district boundaries, Ward referred to two specific public hearings — on June 29 and July 8 — as examples where the commission adopted vague standards for local communities of interest.
“As Commissioner [Gabino] T. Aguirre has pointed out, something to the naked eye might look strange here, but these are — there is a community of interest — we’ve had two kinds of testimony about this area as a whole,” Commissioner Maria Blanco said at the June 29th hearing.
In a July 8th hearing, Commissioner Jeanne Raya described the mapmaking process as “an opportunity to be really artistic.”
Ward believes the vague standards for community of interest resulted in the commission making “decisions based on political motives.” This inconsistent application, Ward believes, was most evident in the “joblessness” of the Silicon Valley and the Los Angeles ports.
“Around LAX and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, jobs were a sufficient primary reason to bind communities into a district,” Ward said. “However, the commission split the Silicon Valley’s Golden Triangle, despite public testimony stating that 1 out of every 4 of the region’s private sector jobs are based in that area.”
The commission is expected to grant final approval later today to its final draft maps that were tentatively approved on July 29.
In recent weeks, CalWatchDog.com ran an exclusive series of articles exposing the political activities, campaign contributions and special interest connections of two redistricting commissioners, all of which were never disclosed to the commission or uncovered during State Auditor Elaine Howle’s background checks.
Commissioner Gabino T. Aguirre failed to disclose multiple political campaign contributions to Democratic candidates or his extensive connections to a special interest group, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, which has submitted its own redistricting proposals to the commission.
CalWatchDog.com also first reported on four campaign contributions made within the past eighteen months by Commissioner Jeanne Raya’s business to a state political action committee. Campaign finance watchdogs have criticized the failure to disclose the business contributions valued at $1,000.
An advance copy of Commissioner Mike Ward’s prepared remarks can be viewed below.