Why is the California Redistribution Commission increasingly under scrutiny?
California’s independent redistribution commission is taking a lot of heat for the congressional and legislative maps it is drawing to pass the Dec. 27 deadline.
But it’s not just the sometimes confusing product that’s under the microscope. It’s the commission’s messy process too – with accusations of secrecy, complaints about public input, and now questions about whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.
The state funds the commission with $ 20.3 million, about twice as much as the previous independent commission received.
Steven Maviglio – a Sacramento-based Democratic consultant who has been one of the commission’s most vocal critics and opposed its creation to begin with – said he was in the throes of “cost overrun after overrun” .
âEveryone understands that recutting is a horrible process no matter who does it, but what I’m seeing here is amateur sausage making,â he told CalMatters.
Jane Andersen, chair of the commission this week, said the panel has demonstrated its commitment to an open process with broad public awareness – a process that has taken place under “extraordinary circumstances”, including pandemic and delay. unprecedented in 2020 census data.
One of the reasons for the larger budget of the current commission is that it started four months earlier than the previous one and its work was prolonged by the delay in the census. Having to conduct public outreach activities virtually over the summer due to COVID-19 has also increased costs – audio and video, translation, captioning and interpretation, said Fredy Ceja, director of communications for the commission.
“The people of California have left the redistribution process to a group of their peers without a plan for how to do it,” Andersen, a Berkeley Republican who is a civil engineer, said in a statement Tuesday night. “The Commission has created and executed a robust community input process, which may not be perfect, but has been conducted with integrity and transparency in the hope that it will result in fairer maps for the people of California. “
Increased redistribution costs
When voters approved the 2008 ballot measure that created the commission and removed the once-decade redistribution from the legislature, the initiative said the cost would be set at the amount of the previous redistribution, plus inflation. After the 2000 census, it was about $ 3 million.
In fact, the first independent commission that drew districts after the 2010 census spent $ 10.4 million in state money, plus $ 3.3 million donated by a private foundation for public education.
Of the state’s $ 20 million allocated to the current commission, it had received $ 8.4 million as of July 1, according to budget documents provided to CalMatters. The commission was unable to give an updated total of overall spending, but said it paid more than $ 1.2 million to its legal advisers and mapping consultants in mid-November.
âEveryone understands that recutting is a horrible process no matter who does it, but what I’m seeing here is hobbyist sausage making. ”
STEVEN MAVIGLIO, DEMOCRATIC POLICY CONSULTANT
The money is also used to pay staff, rent rooms, produce audio and video, and provide translations. There are also costs for public awareness: printing marketing materials, buying ads online, and other costs for educating the public about redistribution and soliciting their participation.
The budget also includes $ 1.2 million for his legal advisor, of which $ 149,000 has been spent until Nov. 10, according to Ceja. Under the contract with Strumwasser and Woocher LLC, the lead lawyer and partners are paid $ 575 per hour and partners $ 375 per hour.
And the commission budgeted $ 1.6 million for its mapping consultants: HaystaqDNA and Q2 Data & Research, and paid them $ 1.1 million until November 10. The previous commission paid Q2 $ 592,000 for the line art.
The legislature allocated funds separately for the statewide database to create a mapping tool. And the state auditor’s office was given a separate appropriation of $ 5.2 million to select and constitute the commission.
The commissioners themselves receive a stipend – $ 378 per day when they attend meetings or do commission work. Although some commissioners have been noticeably absent from the meetings, there is no attendance requirement. The committee voted to allow commissioners who wanted to meet in person to do so, and their travel is reimbursed. The others participate via Zoom.
Republican political strategist Matt Rexroad has said that while he understands that members of the Citizens’ Commission could juggle multiple jobs, they need to hear input from the public in making decisions.
âIf you value the audience’s input, you show up to listen to it,â he said via email.
The committee has met six days a week almost weekly since mid-November and plans to continue on that schedule until the final maps are passed at the end of the month.
He approved the preliminary cards on November 10, but he’s already blowing up some of them. He wrapped up new versions of the State Assembly maps, but not until around 12:40 a.m. Tuesday.
To balance the different criteria that the commission has to weigh, some of the neighborhoods have ended up having an odd shape. There were long ânecksâ within districts, for example, in San Pedro to separate ports, as requested by the community.
The commissioners, who began surveying congressional districts on Tuesday, said there was no good way to gauge the contribution of one community of interest against another.
Corn Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, called the line art a “mess.”
“Why? The lack of foresight to start with the previous maps also drawn by an independent commission,” she said tweeted tuesday. She also said lawmakers, who know their districts, should have more of a say in the process.
She is so fed up that she says the initiative that gave the commission the power to redistribute should be reviewed: âThere should be a better way to avoid political gerrymandering, while still giving the Commission a real voice. community and its representatives.
Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, a government reform group that pushed for an independent redistribution, said the mess is better than the alternative.
âDemocracy done in public is going to be messy. It’s 14 people with California’s best interests in mind, trying to get a lot of districts on a public livestream, âhe told CalMatters via email. âThey can’t put things in a back room for a few weeks to work there, make mistakes, and then bring back a more refined product. We see it all – and that includes the good and the bad. “
Efficiency and transparency
Commissioner Sara Sadhwani defended the new assembly map, which she said was “based on compromise and consensus”. But in a tweet on Tuesday, she admitted that “not everyone will be happy.”
For some, it is more than dissatisfaction with the cards themselves.
On November 30, five Republican voters filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court to order the commission to disclose its analysis of the racially polarized vote passed, which it is using to get districts to comply with the law on voting rights.
The petition, filed by Harmeet Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee, also says any private conversations between commissioners and interest groups must be made public. Finally, the complaint calls for the commission’s legal advisor to be fired because he has also worked for the legislative leaders and campaigns of former President Barack Obama.
In its response, filed in court on Tuesday, the commission categorically denied the allegations and gave no indication that it would comply with any of the petition’s requests. Lawyers for the commission said it had released maps showing the results of the racial vote analysis and that the commissioners had not held any secret or illegal meetings.
The petition lacks merit and, at worst, “represents a politically motivated attempt to hamper the Commission’s efforts by denying it the advice of its chosen lawyer in these crucial final days of the redistribution process,” added the filed response. by commission counsel. .
âDemocracy done in public is going to be messyâ¦ We see it all – and that includes good and bad. ”
JONATHAN MEHTA STEIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CALIFORNIA COMMON CAUSE
The commission already expects to be taken to court again, even after submitting its final cards to the Secretary of State. Its budget includes $ 4.3 million for litigation resulting from the redistribution.
The previous commission spent about $ 2 million on legal fees after the 2011 redistribution. The plans of the state Congress and Senate have been challenged in state and federal courts, and the composition of the commission itself. even has been challenged in state courts, according to research from Loyola Law School. None of the challenges were successful.
Besides the petition from GOP voters, redistribution experts and close observers have complained about the public consultation process, including a lack of clarity on the specific timeline, files not posted early enough for the public to review and comment on, or hard to read file formats.
While the process was not perfect, James Woodson, director of policy at the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub, said the independent commission was doing more to serve voters than interested politicians.
“This process has given Californians like those our coalition engages – black immigrants, refugees, former incarcerated people, homeless people who are traditionally excluded from processes like this – the opportunity to engage the commission and to make their voices heard, âhe said. “We would not trade this process for another.”
Still, Woodson noted some ways to improve the process, including more time for commissioners to be trained on California’s laws and its diverse membership. This could also include a larger engagement with the previous commission.
Some voters also praised the commissioners for their work on a compressed schedule.
âIt’s not an easy and time consuming job,â said a Bakersfield caller. âThank you for what you have done. “
CalMatters is a non-profit, non-partisan media company explaining California politics and politics.