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The Roundtable: How Will Redistricting Change San Diego Politics?

A 2011 draft of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission's map for the state's congressional districts. For more information on the 2020 redistricting commission go here.
California Citizens Redistricting Commission
A 2011 draft of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission's map for the state's congressional districts. For more information on the 2020 redistricting commission go here.
The Roundtable: How Will Redistricting Change San Diego Politics?
Redistricting could dramatically change the political landscape in San Diego. We discuss the potential changes in the works for our congressional, county-supervisor, and state-legislative districts. Plus, hear the latest on efforts to create a ninth council district in the City of San Diego.

Redistricting could dramatically change the political landscape in San Diego. We discuss the potential changes in the works for our congressional, county-supervisor, and state-legislative districts. Plus, hear the latest on efforts to create a ninth council district in the City of San Diego.


John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint


Jose Luis Jimenez, social media editor for the KPBS Fronteras Desk

Michael Smolens, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Another big story this weekend we are going to discuss on the Roundtable is redistricting. It is closely tied to the whole budget debacle. The hope is that by redrawing district lines the voters might actually be able to observe the old order and get beyond gerrymandered districts where there is a foregone conclusion about which party will win. Some proposed new maps are on the table and public input is underway. Maybe you've seen the maps, maybe you've got some opinions or questions here. Please call us at the Roundtable. The number is 888-895-5727. Our guests on the Roundtable today John Warren editor and publisher of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint, José Luis Jimenez, social media editor at the KPBS Fronteras desk and Michael Smolens, government editor for the San Diego UT. So John you are the point person on this. Just to start us off, why does redistricting matter to the average Californian? I think some people are not quite clear why it's important.

JOHN WARREN: A lot of people don't realize that the census is mandated in the Constitution every 10 years and based on the Constitution and after that census is taken there is an apportionment that must take place across the country. The house it is fixed in terms of its 434-435 seats and the Senate is fixed at 100 so population shifts have to be adjusted, districts wiped out or added to make sure that the numbers associated ensure the representation of all the people in the house and senate in terms of the federal level and we also have the same issue at the state level because there are numbers of districts we have like 40 assembly districts, 40 senatorial districts in California and 80 assembly districts. Is that it? Yes. Okay. And so we have that issue and this time in terms of the state unlike in the past when there were backroom deals being made the state is being done in terms of a commission that is being put together to handle redrawing the boundaries and while that is taking place the voters also have what is happening locally. We have County redistricting taking place and there's a panel that's been handling that, they just-released three tentative maps for the supervisors which handle a $5 billion budget and some people are concerned that the five supervisors who are, they could violate what the voting rights act wants because you have five whites, three males and two females there which are no longer reflective of the population of the county because the population here is now over 50% nonwhite in terms of people residing for the first time and so you have two districts for instance where Greg Cox has to add, has to give up 36,000 and in East County Diane Jacobs has to be redrawn so that she picks up at least 48,000 and that is where the term gerrymandering comes in. When you are drawing boundaries to reach people and crossing natural boundaries to achieve a political goal because under the voting rights act there has to be a concern given to minority participation, individual groups and groups of similar interest or size. So those groups make a difference in terms of how the boundaries are drawn which brings us down to the city level where we have a new problem because in the city we are supposed to add a district, a ninth district and the district has to be created out of the existing eight. There are 124 neighborhoods in the city of San Diego and now there are new interests on the table. There is a concern about Latino interest being represented. There is the concern about the LBGT interest and representative are moving forward there is concern about the Asian community and all of the community interests are logistically and legally correct when you look at the mandate under the voting rights act in terms of not only grouping people so that there is some continuity geographically with natural boundaries, but also people of like interests, which means that in the south you could have for example t he Latino African-American combine in terms of making up interest. So there is a lot there.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's a lot to chew on, John.


JOHN WARREN: I just wanted to do that because now the maps are, maps are being thrown on the table people look at the maps in the San Diego taxpayer Association has put out maps and the maps are not necessarily agreeable with people and the of political issues with the commission itself for San Diego, the residency question for one---

ALISON ST. JOHN: Before you go on the trouble is we have like three different levels, state, federal county and city but you know Michael what you've seen of the process so far, do you think the people are aware of what the significance is and how they could actually make a difference? Do they use the power of district boundaries to empower themselves?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: Increasingly what we do know is that there is a very intense interest among a certain number of people in the political world but whenever the state redistricting commission has gone around the state to hold hearings there have been overflow crowds in (inaudible) and so forth. Again these are largely politically oriented people but stepping back the whole goal here was to try to make some more competitive districts and more districts that make sense in terms of geography and demographics. As you mentioned the Legislature carved up of the legislative districts and the congressional districts and what they did last time basically they protected incumbents. They made very Republican or Democratic districts and what happened that we sort of alluded to is they've got a lot of Democrats in one district and a lot of Republicans in others and so in the primaries that is where the races are won and usually they go to the more liberal person in the Democratic district and the more conservative one in the Republican.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And that has contributed to the deadlock?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: Exactly. You have more Balkanization. The theory is that not all districts are more competitive, but enough could be that it would, people could be attracted to the center attracted to more moderate candidates and that could bridge gaps in Sacramento. The upshot of it is that the politicians are not drawing the districts anymore and protecting themselves anymore as we see in the preliminary (inaudible) of the areas they might not be too comfortable with.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I see. Let's start with the Congressional maps or the federal districts from what you've seen do you think there might be a shift in competitiveness in any of those for voters?

JOSE LUIS JIMENEZ: I think we are already seeing that in the congressman I'm drawing a blank on his name? I'm sorry.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Bilbray or Filner?

JOSE LUIS JIMENEZ: Filner exactly, Bob Filner. The south area the proposal is going to make it much more Latino and now he has decided to run for mayor. The buzz is that that was one of the reasons. He thought that his reelection prospects were going to be harder so he decided to give up the seat and we already have Juan Vargas who announced he will run for the seat. So you see some shifts in terms of the political spectrums from the proposal of the maps but they haven't even been approved yet.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Michael, do you think that's why he decided to run for mayor?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: I don't and I disagree with Jose quite a bit on this. His district runs along the border and includes Imperial County frankly that battle was fought back when the Legislature created the district to include Imperial County. Juan Vargas passed it (inaudible) Hispanic no more so yes, but Filner still in the district. He wants to be mayor. Frankly the real key once people are suggesting are Brian Bilbray moves into a more competitive district as Susan Davis, she moves into coastal areas that is one Republican and one Democrat correct. Bilbray is a Republican who's going to be taking a less Republican district and area that he may not be a household name as where he is now. Similarly with Susan Davis. So those two have been around for a long time and people will suggest they will in the district but we haven't seen a numbered breakdown yet in terms of voter registration and people are supposed to be closer in terms of the Democratic/ Republican breakdown

ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you think someone might jump ship and try to run for a different district like Susan Davis?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: No that is probably the district that probably suits her the most given what's happened. There was discussion about whether Bilbray and Isa, Daryll Isa would have to freeze off Vista of course is a North County district which takes in now some of what Bilbray's district does but they both announced they will run for the perspective districts and like I said Bilbray and Davis are the potential districts are the ones that people are saying are the most competitive potentially but we still do not know if it is not suggesting---

ALISON ST. JOHN: We are all speculating because the maps are only proposed. People, John, do people still have a chance to have their say?

JOHN WARREN: People have a chance but Bilbray will lose Escondido San Marcos Carlsbad, Duncan Hunter will pick up Escondido. Bilbray is moving into Clairmont. So you have movement, but the important thing about the congressional thing is it might be more competitive but none of them are out in their places where all districts are being limited for instance in New York they are talking about eliminating Weiner's district using the opportunity of his resigning as a chance to eliminate the district so that they can realign and perhaps protect others who will be seeking a comeback. So it is a national problem and we are just getting torn apart.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You are saying we or San Diego voters will probably see the same candidates running, that's not going to change. Do you think there may be some different kinds of candidate that might feel encouraged to run?

JOHN WARREN: Well they might be encouraged, but I think Michael is pointing out that I don't believe that the changing demographics have anything to do with Filner's decision to run for mayor. I think that Filner was tired and he wanted to come back after some 20 years and he started out, he'd been on the council before. So he's coming in as an outsider and I know it's changing where we are going here but I want us to remember that Vargas was one of the elements instrumental in drawing up the current boundaries because he thought it was going to help them in terms of Imperial County against Filner and it did not. So I think we have all those considerations on the table.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Just to take it to a more birds eye view again when they consider the maps they cannot take into account political party, they take into account of the makeup of communities of interest, that kind of thing. But the outcome since there are some pretty dramatic shifts taken in the census, might the outcome change the party makeup of San Diego's congressional delegation?

JOHN WARREN: The outcome could change, but let's remember that this whole issue is something that has changed a whole area of litigation. Going back to one man, one vote, the litigation of this whole matter of gerrymandering districts long back before the voting rights act. So this is not new and we could have a situation up in court but it doesn't look like at this point based on what we have in San Diego.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 888-895-5727 is the number. You may have questions for people on the roundtable here. It's not an easy topic to get your arms around but it is one that is really kind of crucial, isn't it. John, just back to the County which is the local races, this is the five supervisors and now they are all white Republicans and you were mentioning that the Census has in fact meant that for the first time whites are less than 50% of the population here. Is there anything about the way the district maps being proposed for the supervisors might change the representation?

JOHN WARREN: Well if you look at district, Craig Cox, and you look at the fact that the South Bay has a strong Latino population and they are saying that he has to lose 36,000 people but it is clearly that is going to be part of a Latino population shift but let's also remember that now the Board of Supervisors have term limits on them and we know that Ron Roberts is not going to run again in that part of that whole area that is up for grabs between the Latino and African-American components of redrawing the map includes district 4 of the Board of Supervisors. So we're looking at a possible change. Looking at a possible change in North County in terms of Bill Horne. So it is going to change and I think what's happening here is this is just going to add to the urgency in the people interested in the change.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I think you were talking before about the fact that they had to make sure that they did not violate the voting rights act and I understand that former city attorney Mike Aguirre might consider whether in fact they are in fact violating the voting rights act with the lines proposed. Do you think there might be any argument for that?

JOHN WARREN: First you have to remember what's required of them in the voting rights act. It says an equal size of people, not citizens that is a key factor. Contiguous districts should not have to jump or escape so that meant gerrymandering or jumping over a natural boundary, jumping from one side of the freeway to another can be considered a divisive factor. We don't know how that's going to work out and the idea of not only maintaining communities of interest but following city County local government lines, keeping things come back. So we have to take the maps that are put on the table and put them against the criteria that goes with the voting rights act and see if we are meeting those criteria number one and if not how can we make adjustments. I think that is before us even before Michael gets to litigation.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay and José, the County Board of Supervisors are the ones were going to make a decision on the maps so it is different (inaudible) process where it is at least a state commission. What do you think it would take for a change in the Board of Supervisors at this point?

JOSE LUIS JIMENEZ: I think it was stated earlier, term limits. Obviously it is in their self-interest to remain on the board and until we start getting actual change in the Board of Supervisors they really have no incentive to change any of the districts.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Why is it that the city of San Diego redistricting process seems to have gotten a lot juicier than any of the others, Michael?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: Largely because the Republican Party has tried to make an issue of it because they don't like where that is going and John alluded to the one commissioner on the city redistricting commission who has, the local Republican Party put a private eye on him to try to determine or show that he does not live where he says he lives. But, he is according to the city attorney, or the authorities, the registrar of voters he is properly registered where he says he is. He does spend a lot of time in LA. So that is kind of off the table. Then there are all sorts of issues about what company is going to be crunching the numbers to draw the maps.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Why is more at stake in the city?

MICHAEL SMOLENS: As John mentioned there is a whole new district of the city Council. They used to be a very heavily Republican district back in the day, John, but they went to district only elections and the composition of the city voters is changing to become more democratic, (inaudible) more democratic, more union favorable numbers on there. So that is really what it comes down to everyone is trying to get their own angle to shape things as best as they can with independent commissions.

JOHN WARREN: And you have more labor participation now than before which has been an objection too because labor takes a position that the members live in all 124 neighborhoods and therefore they should have right to participate. I know that (inaudible) director to stack the deck against some of the projects being put on the table. So this adds to it tremendously when you have for the first time a strong Asian push and African Americans in the area of saying we want to be represented and many people don't realize that what they want is consistent with the voting rights act in terms of communities of interest being pulled together. Then you have the gay lesbian transsexual community saying that they want an interest and there is a question of whether or not they all live with it a given area or are they in effect spread out just in terms of having people with similar interest, but now living in one compact contiguous area.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So we haven't seen any maps for the city yet. There is a whole different timeline.

JOHN WARREN: No, yes it is a different timeline but these are the factors that are adding to the contention along with the makeup of the commission itself and the question as to the two judges that did the commission. Under the charter it said that there were supposed to have been three retired judges. There were only two.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Why did one of them not show up? I understand it was a Republican that did not show up.

JOHN WARREN: I don't know what happened to the third one but I think the Republicans raised the issue and the ruling was that two constitute a quorum, therefore we are going with what the two have done.

ALISON ST. JOHN: The commission is sort of drawing the boundary lines okay, but in general are you getting a sense that there is a ninth District shaping up in certain places? Can you kind of generalize enough to say?

JOHN WARREN: Well the ninth District has to shape up because it has already been mandated. It is unfortunate that the city took that approach because it would've made more sense to add an at-large seat as opposed to creating a district but they can do this and now we have to have this ninth District and it's going to take from existing, it is going to make this whole issue even more complicated than it already is.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Just before we leave this topic there is one more element of that which is that when the next elections come around there's going to be a change in the way the primaries are run, right? Which is also going to affect voters in the sense that no longer make you get, you don't necessarily have one Democrat and one Republican running against each other.

MICHAEL SMOLENS: We are talking about state level.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You're right, back to the state. The city is nonpartisan.

MICHAEL SMOLENS: The top two vote getters go to the runoff and it could be in a given district to Republicans or to Democrats the way that the new primary will shape.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Sort of exciting. It is going to be kind of a new ballgame.

MICHAEL SMOLENS: It will be fascinating, fun trying to predict what will happen. You make all these assumptions based on preliminary maps and will incumbents be threatened, will there be a super majority in the legislature, all those things may happen but we've got the new districts, we've got the new primary system and Lord knows what the political dynamic is with the economy and other things that people really care about that tend to drive elections in terms of who gets elected.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Interesting. Okay well we are going to have to move on. Coming up after the break just across the border in San Diego and Tijuana a controversial character the former mayor of Tijuana is arrested on weapons charges and has been released. What is the back story? Stay with us.