Latinos set to gain in new statewide district boundaries

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Dec. 22—Latinos in the Central Valley are slated to receive historic voting power in the new final maps unanimously approved by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission on Monday.

The new congressional, state senate and state assembly districts drawn by the commission consolidate Latino communities in the Central Valley to maximize their potential to elect the candidate of their choosing. For Congress, the new map creates three Latino-majority districts in the Central Valley, each grouped around Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced.

The map closely resembles a proposal submitted by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a leading Latino civil rights advocacy organization.

"I think this is a tremendous win for the Latino community in the Central Valley," said MALDEF National Redistricting Coordinator Steven Ochoa. "There has been a very checkered recent history of Latinos not being able to elect candidates of choice, and given our experience when we had to litigate against the Kern Board of Supervisors in the middle of the decade, we saw there are areas that did not want to vote for Latino candidates of choice, and that's a factor in this drawing."

The map, drawn by an independent commission of both Republicans and Democrats, was not supposed to take partisanship into account when drawing new boundaries. Instead, the commission was supposed to create districts of equal population, allow minorities an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice as mandated by the Voting Rights Act and follow other requirements like creating compact and contiguous districts.

The commission was also supposed to minimize the division of cities when drawing new boundaries.

Under the new map, the district currently represented by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, loses ground in its northern section and encompasses much of the Latino population in Bakersfield. Additionally, the district loses Lemoore and a portion of Hanford, which becomes a part of the district now represented by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

According to the Redistricting Commission, the Valadao's district will become 59 percent composed of Latino citizens of voting age, the highest proportion in the entire state.

But not all observers are offering praise of the commission's work.

Tony Quinn, a former Republican consultant with extensive redistricting experience, criticized the final congressional map, saying it contained the worst-looking districts in Kern County in the history of the state. He took issue with the district now represented by McCarthy, which connects west metro Bakersfield to north Fresno, with a long arm in the middle reaching out to Lemoore.

"It's an attempt to put all of the Anglo-white neighborhoods essentially in Kern and Kings and mostly Fresno into a single district, the McCarthy district," he said. "The most likely consequence is that Valadao will not be able to win that district. The other consequences are that there aren't any."

He predicted all other congressional representatives aside from Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, who is retiring at the end of this year, would retain their seats given the current political inclinations of the local populations.

"It really doesn't change the politics very much," he said. "It's just terrible-looking districts for essentially no gain."

Changes are no longer permitted for the new maps, although the commission will accept public input for three days after they are released. A report to the Secretary of State must be submitted no later than Dec. 27.

In the news release announcing the approval of the final map, Commission Chair Alicia Fernandez set a congratulatory tone.

"We conclude our map drawing responsibilities with pride in our final product," she said in the release. "We started this process leaving politics out of the equation in hopes of achieving fairer and more equitable maps. I think I speak for my colleagues when I say mission accomplished."

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.