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Draft California Political Maps Would Reshape Key Districts



Photo of Rep. Josh Harder with a stuffed swamp rat at a congressional hearing
Modesto Democrat Josh Harder's congressional seat could be at risk in the proposed redistricting map released Wednesday. (Office of Rep. Josh Harder)
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SACRAMENTO  — Newly released political maps from California’s redistricting commission would leave some members of Congress without a political home and others to face off against colleagues in their own party in the 2022 midterm elections, when the state will play a key role in determining which party controls Congress.

The maps released late Wednesday are drafts that could change significantly before they are finalized in December. They offer a first look at how California’s loss of a congressional seat, from 53 to 52, will reshape its political landscape.

California lost a seat because it grew more slowly than other states over the past decade, but still remains the largest House delegation by far; each congressional district must represent about 760,000 people.

California is a Democratic stronghold but still home to more than 5 million registered Republicans, leading to a handful of competitive House districts that have been nationally watched contests in recent elections. Republicans now hold 11 seats in California and are hoping to win more as the party seeks control of Congress.

The draft maps appear to give the GOP an opportunity to pick up the Central Valley seat now held by Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, but Republican Rep. Mike Garcia may have a harder time holding his district, which is anchored in Los Angeles County. Orange County seats that have been highly competitive in recent elections are likely to remain so.

Incumbents at Risk

Among the incumbents who appear to fare the worst in the draft maps are Democratic Reps. Josh Harder and Lucille Roybal-Allard. Harder flipped a Republican-held seat in the Central Valley in 2018 and won reelection in 2020. But the district would cut Democratic territory and pick up Republican areas in the redrawing draft.

“This biggest loser in all of this was Josh Harder,” said Rob Pyers, research director of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which closely tracks redistricting.

Roybal-Allard has served in Congress since 1993, representing a district in southeast Los Angeles County where about 80% of eligible voters are Latino. In the draft maps, key parts of her district are merged with others, leaving her without an obvious seat. Up north, Democratic Rep. John Garamendi’s district, which includes a vast swath of land west of Sacramento including the cities of Davis and Fairfield, has been significantly cut up. In Sacramento, the draft maps cut a line through the heart of the capital city, which is now together in one district represented by Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui.

Overall, the draft maps appear to create four highly competitive congressional races in the districts held by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Mike Levin, and a newly drawn San Diego district that could pit incumbents against each other, Pyers said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Maps Subject to Revision

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, declined to discuss the maps released Wednesday, noting that they are early drafts, not the final version.

“There’s not much to say because they’re not the final maps, and the final maps won’t come forth for probably four to six weeks. And so all of this gossip and speculation is just gossip and speculation. So why should I comment on something that’s not the final map?” Costa told GV Wire Thursday at the Fresno Veterans Day Parade.

The draft maps amount to “fools gold” for anyone attempting to discern the state’s 2022 political makeup because they’re highly likely to change, said Matt Rexroad, a political consultant and redistricting expert who has worked for Republicans including U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

He criticized the redistricting process for being hard for the public to follow. Though the commission draws the lines during meetings that stream online, it hasn’t released a document explaining why districts were constructed in certain ways or how they comply with the Voting Rights Act, a federal law designed to protect the voting power of racial minorities.

“I’m hard-pressed to see how a member of the public would be able to evaluate maps on a fair basis,” he said.

Voters created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2008 in an effort to remove partisanship from the once-a-decade process of redrawing political maps. The state constitution spells out criteria the commission must follow, including creating districts with equal population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act and geographic continuity.

The commission members have focused heavily on a section of the VRA that requires states to draw districts in certain cases where a majority of the voting population are members of the same racial group. California could have more than a dozen majority Latino districts under the new maps.

Over the past decade, inland areas including Riverside and San Bernardino have grown faster than the Los Angeles area, causing population shifts that are also shaping redistricting. The commission still has significant changes to make in Los Angeles County, said Sara Sadhwani, a member of the commission and an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College.

“One of the challenges with Los Angeles is that once you start tinkering with the districts it sends a large ripple effect throughout the entire map because the population is so densely concentrated,” Sadhwani said.

The commission must approve final maps by Dec. 23 and the secretary of state will certify them Dec. 27.

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