Sunday, August 01, 2010

Queer Democrats Back State Party on Redistricting

Join Fight to Protect Legislators’ Power to Draw Their Own Districts


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Mark Hansen and Paul Clay, Paul Clay, Mark Hansen

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club debated the two ballot propositions about redrawing legislative districts at their regular meeting July 22 but ultimately voted overwhelmingly to support the state party’s position that it should be the legislators themselves — not an independent commission — that get to draw their own districts. The club went along with the state party in endorsing no on Proposition 20, which would extend the authority of the state’s independent redistricting commission to draw Congressional as well as state legislative districts; and yes on Proposition 27, which would dissolve the redistricting commission altogether and hand the power to map legislative districts back to the legislature itself. Both propositions will appear on the November 2 ballot.

The independent commission actually doesn’t exist yet. It was authorized by a measure narrowly passed by California voters in 2008 and is currently whittling down thousands of applicants into a 14-member panel. By law, the final commission must contain five Democrats, five Republicans and four people not registered with either of the two major parties. A clause in Proposition 20 requires that any redistricting plan passed by the commission must be approved by at least nine members: three of the Republicans, three of the Democrats and three of the people affiliated with smaller parties or no party at all.

The original initiative to create the redistricting commission didn’t include Congressional districts in the hope that restricting it to the state legislature would win the support of the California Democratic Party — or at least that the state Democrats would stand neutral. It didn’t work. Not only did the state Democratic leadership oppose the initiative, but even after it passed they circulated and qualified Proposition 27 to get rid of the independent commission before its members could be selected and it could begin work.

Within the San Diego Democratic Club, support for independent redistricting was led by Alex Sachs, the club’s former vice-president for political action. Sachs, who had resigned his club office the previous month and is relocating to Iowa, warned that opposing independent redistricting could spark a backlash that could hurt the state Democratic ticket. “It is dangerous for our club and our party to be on the wrong side of the electorate,” Sachs said. “If we oppose what’s seen as a good-government position, we do so at our peril.”

Other club members strongly disagreed. “Sometimes the majority of Californians is wrong,” said special events chair Matt Corrales — which got knowing chuckles from an audience who knew precisely what he was referring to: the passage of Proposition 8, the state’s ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriage, in November 2008. “The redistricting commission is less diverse than either the California legislature or the electorate as a whole,” Corrales added — suggesting that by being older, whiter and more Republican than California’s overall population, they might consciously or unconsciously bias the redistricting in favor of the GOP.

Club member Gerry Senda said he was concerned about the provision in Proposition 20 that allows three commission members from one political party to block the redistricting altogether. He said the real agenda of Proposition 20’s Republican backers is to sabotage the commission and force the redistricting into the California Supreme Court — which consists of six Republicans and one Democrat (though three of those six Republicans voted for the right of same-sex couples to marry in a decision later reversed by the voters through Proposition 8). “The GOP wants to Texicate California,” Senda said — referring to a court-ordered redistricting in Texas that changed the state’s legislature and congressional delegation from an even split between the major parties to overwhelmingly Republican. Senda claimed that the California congressional delegation, which is now 33 Democrats to 19 Republicans, would shift to 27 Democrats and 22 Republicans if Proposition 20 passes.

Ellis Rose, former club activist who has recently returned to attending and speaking out regularly at its meetings, said he was involved in the last redistricting process for the San Diego City Council — which also involved an independent commission — and it soured him on the whole idea. “The issue isn’t trusting independent voters, it’s trusting an independent commission,” Rose said. “It can be just as corrupt as any other body.” Eventually the club voted overwhelmingly, 32 to 7 with two abstentions, to endorse the state party’s positions of no on 20 and yes on 27.

The club accepted the state party’s endorsements on three other propositions without debate. The club opposed Proposition 23, which would suspend California’s landmark law against global warming until the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters — which, opponents point out, has only happened three times in the last 30 years. It supported Proposition 25, which would reduce the required vote to pass a budget in the state legislature from two-thirds in each house to a simple majority; and opposed Proposition 26, which would raise the threshold to pass state fees and levies from a simple majority to two-thirds. (California’s constitution already requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, and neither proposition would change that,)

Also on the agenda were two Democratic nominees for state legislative seats in heavily Republican districts: Paul Clay, who’s running for the State Senate against Joel Anderson; and Mark Hansen, a candidate for the Assembly against Brian Jones. Despite the Republican registration edge in both districts, Clay is confident he has a chance because Anderson is unpopular even among many Republicans in the area. “He’s been fined $20,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission, and the Fresno County Republican Central Committee was fined $29,000 for those same violations,” Clay said of Anderson. “He paid himself $100,000 from his campaign fund in the primary, shifting it to a ‘company’ which doesn’t exist. He used $246,000 of state taxpayers’ money to send out his brochures, and spent $517,000 on his primary campaign. His backers include British Petroleum, Exxon, AIG, GEICO and most of the major insurers and oil companies.”

“My opponent, Brian Jones, is a bit more humble,” said Hansen. “He believes the earth is 5,000 years old and dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. He’s the deputy mayor of Santee and ran against Duncan Hunter (Jr.) for Congress last time and lost in the Republican primary. He’s being very low-key, and I haven’t raised enough money to scare anyone yet.” Asked about Jones’ position on Queer issues, Hansen admitted, “I’ve heard nothing along those lines from him, but he is a lay minister at Sunrise Church, which is not a progressive organization.” Hansen described his principal issues as “sustainability in terms of the economy, environment and culture,” and pointed to his involvement with the Heartland Coalition (not to be confused with the Right-wing Heartland Institute) in creating jobs for inner-city youth and training them to be construction workers. The club endorsed both candidates without audible opposition.

The club also made Howard Wayne’s candidacy for the District 6 seat on the San Diego City Council a priority race at the suggestion of former political action vice-president Alex Sachs. Democrats got a shock when Lorie Zapf, the Republican front-runner, beat Wayne by 12 percent in the primary and more people voted for Republicans than for Democrats — leading to the fear that this seat, currently held by progressive Democrat Donna Frye, might be lost in November. “Wayne is clearly a strong friend of this community, and his opponent is clearly not,” Sachs said. (During the primary, Zapf was quoted as saying that Queer people are not morally fit to hold elective office, though she later backtracked.) Sachs also pointed to the overlap between District 6 in the city and District 4 for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, where former club president and openly Queer candidate Stephen Whitburn is running to unseat incumbent Ron Roberts. The motion to make Wayne’s race a priority passed unanimously.