The long-awaited congressional and state legislative maps generated by the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission are now out, and unless public hearings or lawsuits change things, Democrats stand to pick up seats at every level, perhaps even gaining the two-thirds legislative majority that could theoretically break the state’s long-standing budgetary gridlock.
But the party’s gains could come at the expense of some Democratic incumbents, since the maps, drawn up to make more districts competitive, place ten of them in districts with each other, and another four in districts with Republican incumbents.
To understand the heavy turnover likely to ensue, it’s important to know that California is a state where the last two redistricting cycles pursued bipartisan incumbent protection to an extraordinary degree, creating very few marginal districts at the federal or state levels. Some Democrats have long felt this tradition limited Democratic opportunities to exploit big demographic advantages in California, which is why the new maps could help.
According to redistricting wizard Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California (as reported at CalBuzz):
[T]he number of competitive districts, counting both houses of the Legislature and Congress, increases from 16 to 34 under the draft plan; the total includes 7 additional Assembly districts (9 competitive to 16); 6 additional Senate districts (3 to 9) and 5 additional House districts (4 to 9).
At the congressional level, initial estimates are that Democrats are likely to pick up around four new House seats, according to Chris Cillizza:
Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell projects that the proposed map includes 32 Democratic seats and five Democratic-leaning seats, with 13 Republican seats and three seats that lean Republican. If each side won the seats that were solidly or leaning in their favor, Democrats would see a net gain of three seats in the delegation in 2012.
Similarly, Republican consultant Matt Rexroad estimates the Democrats’ advantage at 3-5 seats, though other Republicans place the estimate slightly lower and insist they will also get new opportunities from the map.
The new maps are by no means, however, final: the commission is going through a formal public hearing process next, and perhaps more importantly, the maps could be challenged on Voting Rights Act grounds, either in terms of the effect on incumbents from minority groups, or a failure to achieve optimal minority representation overall.
So far, however, in a redistricting cycle expected to produce a fair amount of bad news for Democrats, California is offering good news, and gains achieved not by gerrymandering but by better representation of this diverse and Democratic-trending state.