By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rep. Mike Thompson says he’s not thinking much about how his congressional district might be reshaped for the 2012 election, but he is wondering about the rationale for a proposed inland district extending from Santa Rosa to to the Sierra foothills.
“I’m not going to speculate on anything,” said Thompson, the St. Helena Democrat who has represented the heavily Democratic North Coast district — from Windsor to the Oregon border — since 1998.
It would be “ill-spent time and energy,” Thompson said, to contemplate territorial changes until the California Citizens Redistricting Commission approves final maps for new congressional and state legislative districts in August.
But he acknowledged curiosity about the commission’s first maps, described as “visualizations” and released last week, that transform the North Coast congressional landscape.
The preliminary maps outline a coastal district that runs from the Golden Gate Bridge to Del Norte County, including much of Sonoma County and wiping out the compact Sonoma-Marin district held by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, since 1992.
Santa Rosa and Thompson’s Napa County home and political base join a new inland district that includes Lake, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yuba and part of Yolo counties.
“I don’t know what the logic is to either one,” Thompson said.
One of the redistricting commission’s key priorities is to create districts that reflect “communities of interest.”
Turns out the Sonoma-Napa wine country and rural Yuba County, with just 72,155 residents — less than half the size of Santa Rosa — share some attractive features.
“There’s a lot we would have in common,” said John Nicoletti, a Yuba County supervisor and 35-year resident.
Yuba County, 40 miles north of Sacramento, has a dozen wineries and grows mostly sangiovese, syrah and zinfandel grapes, which Nicoletti said — in perfect vineyard-speak — are the “strong suit for our microclimate.”
The Yuba River, which flows from the High Sierra and meets the Feather River at Marysville, the county seat, supports a thriving steelhead and salmon population — the same game fish found in the Russian River.
Sushi rice is the county’s major cash crop, exported to 36 counties and likely found in most of the sushi served in Santa Rosa restaurants, Nicoletti said.
Perhaps most remarkable is the propensity of Yuba County prune trees to harbor a carnivorous wasp that feeds on leafhoppers, a vineyard pest. Wine growers including the late Robert Mondavi have imported Yuba prune tree stocks to wage chemical-free warfare against the leafhopper, Nicoletti said.
But Marysville and Santa Rosa, 2½-hours apart by car, are on different planets politically.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 in voter registration in Sonoma County, and both coastal congress members — Woolsey and Thompson — are virtually unstoppable at election time.
Yuba County is in the 2nd Congressional District, where Republican Wally Herger has been unbeatable since 1986. Republicans hold a 40 percent to 33 percent registration advantage in the county.
The assumption in Yuba political circles is that Herger, who lives in Chico (Butte County), would run in a district — according to the redistricting visualizations — stretching from Butte County to the Oregon border and including Sierra and Nevada counties and parts of Placer and El Dorado, as well.
Republicans would be looking for a candidate to compete with Thompson in the Santa Rosa to Yuba district, Nicoletti said.
“I think it’s an interesting opportunity,” he said.
The first official draft of the new district maps is due for release Friday.