WatchSonoma Watch

Democrats secretly influenced redistricting plan

The new congressional districts in Northern California


California’s congressional Democrats ran a secret effort this year to manipulate the independent citizens panel that drew the state’s new political districts, foiling the intent of those who sought to remove the redistricting process from the control of party bosses.

Democrats met behind closed doors at the party’s Washington headquarters, hired consultants, drew their ideal districts and presented maps to the panel through proxies who never disclosed their party ties or “public interest” groups created specifically for the purpose. In many cases, the panel responded by doing just what the Democrats wanted.

The New York-based nonprofit investigative foundation ProPublica released findings Wednesday from a months-long reconstruction of the Democrats’ stealth redistricting strategy, relying on internal memos, emails, interviews and map analysis.

The success of the strategy has Democrats projecting they may pick up as many as seven congressional seats in 2012 under new district boundaries adopted last summer, far more than had been first expected.

“Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to D.C.,” crowed one internal memo. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Bay Area Democrats, with one exception, were safe no matter how the new district lines were drawn because of the Democrats’ overwhelming advantage in voter registration, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. Only Rep. Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton was in a “marginal Democratic district,” he said.

There’s no surprise in the revelation that “political machinations” were involved in the redistricting process, nor did the Democrats break any laws, he said.

“This is how politics is played,” he said.

He faulted redistricting commission members for conducting a “haphazard process” and for failing to “ask hard questions” of those testifying before them.

“They were not the most savvy operators,” McCuan said of the commission.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who was pushed into a new inland district after representing the North Coast since 1998, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who has represented Marin County and most of Sonoma County since 1992, is retiring next year

Redistricting occurs once a decade, following the census, when states redraw their political boundaries to reflect population shifts. The Democratic-controlled California Legislature long has dominated the process, although both parties have used redistricting as much to protect incumbents as to gain political advantage.

But voters, angry at political gridlock, stripped legislators of the power to draw their own lines and congressional districts. In 2008 and 2010, they handed the job to a 14-member citizen panel.

The new rules barred the use of incumbents’ home addresses as a basis of the new districts. The commission later also chose to exclude party registration data from its deliberations, a decision that may have contributed to its inability to spot partisan manipulation.

Congressional representatives were free to submit their own maps and testify openly before the commission. But a House aide, who invited members of Congress to a secret March meeting in Sacramento, warned them against disclosing their interests publicly.

“Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” the email read. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

Members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission declined to talk with ProPublica about their decisions on specific districts, citing unresolved lawsuits. But several said they knew there were attempts to deceive them.

“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said Esparto rancher and Commissioner Stanley Forbes. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”

The cloaked Democratic strategy was particularly successful in Northern California, ProPublica found.

According to an internal memo, Democrats believed they could save every incumbent if no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and if a new San Joaquin County district pulled in liberal voters from eastern Contra Costa County to ensure its Democratic majority.

The party envisioned the new San Joaquin-Contra Costa seat would go to McNerney, who was at risk of being drawn out of his district. His old gerrymandered seat straddled the Altamont Pass, and no one expected it would survive redistricting.

To counter a GOP push for a more conservative district carved from Central Valley counties, McNerney hired Sacramento mapping consultant Paul Mitchell.

ProPublica linked Mitchell to a Facebook page for a group called OneSanJoaquin, where residents could download maps and sample testimony. Formed in April as the mapping got under way, OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit but it isn’t registered as such in any state.

Transcripts show that at least a dozen people submitted to the commission testimony originating with OneSanJoaquin, although it is unclear whether the origins were known to the commission or how much they influenced the final map.

In any case, the commission adopted maps similar to those OneSanJoaquin sought. And within days, McNerney announced he would move to San Joaquin County and seek re-election in a district where he will enjoy a far more favorable party registration lead than his old seat.

If the 2010 election were rerun in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis obtained by ProPublica.

“McNerney ends up with a safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney made the announcement. “Wow! How did he do that?”

Mitchell, who represented numerous clients in the redistricting hearings, told ProPublica that voters benefitted from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the redistricting.

The commissioners “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups,” he said. “But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”

“The work we did created better maps — regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said. “My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”

This story was compiled from reports by Staff Writer Guy Kovner and the Contra Costa Times.

28 Responses to “Democrats secretly influenced redistricting plan”

  1. Concerned says:

    The explanation on why the redistricting of Sonoma cities can be found here. It seems really strange how the Santa Rosa and Rohnert park have been partitioned into several different districts. I wonder if the Rohnert park residents realize what just happened to their voting block.


  2. Missy says:

    This is exactly why Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, et al, in fact the entire state of California needs to vote for the Rs over the Ds. The Rs are NOT the bogemen, it’s the D’s. BTW this story came out at least a week ago, I’m shocked that the leftwing PD decided to print a portion of it. But the PD kind of did a “document dump” on it and printed it the night before Xmas when a lot of people won’t be reading this paper. BTW, people, please check out the Cotati Independent, it doesn’t have the leftwing bias this paper does.

  3. Bill me says:

    All things are justified by the results. Sustainability to the prevailing party in California has nothing to do with economics, or the environment-it is all about sustaining the democratic status quo. Voters will have to feel more pain before change can take place. Get on board “the pain train”.

  4. Bradley Miller says:

    Sickening! These scoundrels will do anything to keep their political stronghold in California. This screams of unethical conduct. This is the last straw for me, I’m quitting the democratic party. I heard there was a new tea party group that just formed in Santa Rosa. Where do I sign up?

  5. Frank says:

    years of budget lies to cost us big
    The Legislative Analyst’s office recently issued a report assessing California’s fiscal outlook and the 2012-2013 budget. The review unfortunately predicts a $13 billion shortfall requiring the state to enact mid-year budget cuts to schools and other services. you can point a finger at the corrupt water quality board and the dems/libs thats been running this state for some 30 years cherry picking laws and what business operate

  6. JoeM says:

    ashamed to be a democrat today.

  7. Steve Humphrey says:

    Sadly the State of California has been a one party state longer than I can remember. Considering our current fiscal and social situation in this great state, you just have to ask yourself why.

  8. Ellen Swensen says:

    The Nat’l and CA Republican Party sat back and did nothing while the Democrats took over the Commission. Why should anyone be surprised? I was very involved and saw first hand the political manipulation and left-wing/racial bias of the Commissioners. Only one (conservative) Commissioner spoke out and he was threatened and marginalized. He was the only brave one who voted NO in the end on all the maps.

    The R party has abandoned its small-government, Constitutional principles. This is why the Tea Party is ascending. But we must NOT run a third party. Rather, we need to take over the R’s, run fiscal conservative candidates and then hold them to their words.

    Join a local Tea Party and get involved in saving our state and beloved country.

  9. Social Dis-Ease says:

    The masks are falling…

  10. Originalist says:

    This is exactly why this country is failing!
    I can almost guarantee that this will be swept under the carpet like every other corrupt act of politicians,
    To suggest America follows the so called RULE OF LAW or that our Constitution is the SUPREME LAW is sheer folly = BS would be more appropriate!
    Dems are more corrupt than Repubs but both are corrupt and cantb be trusted!

  11. Follower says:

    The sad fact is that our Government is “of the people” so it’s “the people” (voters) who are corrupt.

    We keep re-electing the politician promising the most largess from the public treasury (your neighbors pocket). At some point that becomes nothing less than thinly veiled thievery. We past that point LONG AGO.

    We keep re-electing people like Nancy & Babbs because we are afraid that the other guy’s thief will have more political power than our thief.

    These scum play on our greed spending millions of dollars to get the word out that “a vote for me means more “free” goodies from the Government for you”.

    We vote to give them MORE money to spread around. More taxes, more fees, more power, more corruption and as long as we’re getting our cut, we look the other way at their lies & corruption as if it’s just the cost of doing business.

    So blame the Government if it helps you live among your fellow corrupt, greedy voters but our Government is just a reflection of our society and you should ALL be ashamed of yourselves.

  12. Grapevines says:

    Juvenal said “The GOP should run better candidates.”

    I would like to submit that any dog on the street or lizard under a rock is better than Noreen Evans.

  13. BigDogatPlay says:

    Of course every political party and special interest group tried to influence the ways that the commission would draw the maps. That’s politics, as has been said.

    But in this case, or so it would seem, the Democrats drew the maps that the commission has apparently rubber stamped. Stroke of the pen and a few million more Californians are effectively disenfranchised and cut off from any semblance of representation. We should not have expected any better.

    The commission has, essentially, been a failure. Since it is probably too late to do anything about the mess they’ve caused this time we’ll have to try another approach. The statutes covering the commission will need to be tweaked by the voters and all external influence, save for public comment in open hearings, must be cut off.

    Then, maybe, we can get fair districts that make sense on a map.

  14. Truth Teller says:

    We’ll have the opportunity to vote for whoever we want, regardless of party affiliation, in the June 2012 primary election thanks to the new open primary system voters approved.

    Most importantly, independent or “decline to state” voters will finally be able to choose who they want to see on the November ballot. A huge victoru against party orthodoxy!

    There will, of course, be the professional politicians that have the backing of the political establishment — like Michael Allen and Jared Huffman.

    But there will also be a number of independent-minded candidates, people like Marc Levine, Susan Adams and Stacey Lawson.

    Get informed and choose who you think will best represent you regardless of party affiliation.

  15. @Chris
    If what you said were the case, there would be nothing wrong with it. But according to the investigative report that contained this story, Democrats and Republicans did not act in the same way. So Democrats are not being singled out for something everyone else also did. And, of greatest concern, those against whom these allegations are made apparently acted deceptively. For example: “One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.”

    The full report is available at: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-democrats-fooled-californias-redistricting-commission

  16. Chris from Santa Rosa says:

    A number of people here seem not to notice that pretty much everybody in California tried to influence the redistricting commission. That includes Republicans, Democrats, unions, businesses, progressives, tea partiers, etc, etc. Since the commission was mandated to take public comment, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. That’s how democracy works, after all. Singling out Democrats for doing the same as everyone else in this matter seems a little hypocritical, in my not so humble opinion.

  17. This is an outrage. I am ashamed to be a Democrat. What is this, a Mafia? Sneaky, shadowy, slimy, underhanded, reprehensible, illegal behavior from those we are supposed to trust?
    This is not about the Republican candidates–a Republican already has no chance in most of these districts. What is shocking is the lengths to which the Democratic machine will go to keep power. This is absolutely UN American, and will not be tolerated by the people.

    Punish them by voting for Independents, Republicans, and those Democrats who are unconnected to this corrupt regime.

    We have seen vicious tactics from Michael Allen that show the true colors of his power grab. Norman Soloman appears to be a Socialist masquerading as a Democrat. See the Democratic Socialists of America’s website for information on how they work through the left wing of the Democratic Party, specifically through the Progressives. Unfortunately, the socialists are hijacking the Democratic Party and most are completely unaware of it and are convinced that it’s a tinfoil hat thing. LOOK AT THEIR WEBSITE.

    The tactics used in redistricting are those used by undemocratic countries. This is UN Agenda 21.


  18. Skeptical says:

    The Board of Supervisors is supposed to be non-partisan, but are some of the supervisorss working behind the scenes promoting the Democratic Party while supporting the Unions? Valerie Brown was President of National Association of Counties and is in tight with Joe Biden. Did she help in the decisions made in D.C. re the redistricting? I am totally disgusted with politicians and their politics. And how many Wall Streeters will do prison time? Probably none. Our government has become a joke.

  19. Fed Up says:

    My wife and I attended one of the commission meetings held in the Santa Rosa city hall. It was very obvious at that meeting where this whole redistricting thing was going. From the little smiling faces of the panel to the pompous chairman, a democrat, running the show.

    It was the whole bag of asking the audience to show approval with the occupy waving hands to speaker after speaker from the democrat left asking for their concept of how the districts should be redrawn. The big phoney concern was how Woolsey’s district was going to be handled. The leftists wanted and go it pretty much preserved.

    The national Republican party gave up on California along time ago. They don’t want to waste their money, ads or time here and it is understandable. The corrupt leftists who run Sacramento and have for years, have a death grip on the state politically. They run the LA and Bay Area where most of the population resides.

    The public unions, illegal supporters and environmentists make the rules and call the shots. If you don’t believe me, take a trip away from the left coast and stay out of the east coast and see how America feels about the politicial issues taken as gospel here.

    Clearly California has lost its way for many reasons, political correctness, diversity, anti-American rhetoric taught in all levels of our schools, and a totally corrupt state government, environmental activists and lawyers are some of the major reasons.

    There is too much of just about everything in this state from population, crime, bad attitude, and a collective mentality that believes the government owes them.

    And it doesn’t look good for recovery without some leadership or a major crisis that threaten to destroy the state. Crisis focuses the mind.

  20. Absolutely corrupt says:

    Just another article telling me what I already know. Our government is completely currupt and dysfunctional (thats Demos and Repubs alike.

    Everybody comlains but they continue to vote the same people back into office again and again. Too lazy to look for an alternative I guess.

    Sad, very say.

  21. Jim says:

    @ Follower…

    I stand by my statement – the most corrupt in the world.

    At least in other countries the government acts in the open. They are dictatorships, known to be criminals. Here, elections are ripe with voter fraud. Illegal aliens vote, registrations are fraudulent and intimidation is practiced by political activist groups.

    You have no-bid contracts for basically every government job. Unions manipulate every level of government by forcing “prevailing wages” on the taxpayer. Yet any attempt at reigning in the control the unions have leads to riots.

    Politicians trade on insider information, hide bribe money in their freezers, dodge taxes but aren’t held accountable when caught (instead appointed to high level government positions on the taxpayer bill), etc, etc, etc. Nothing either side says is the truth, nor in the best interests of those who stupidly waste their time voting for them. They mock their constituents but yet still get re-elected. They have an approval rating in the single digits but yet get re-elected. The ONLY explanation is corruption and fraud in the voting process.

    The whole system is a joke. They lie to the people while stealing their money. Seriously…how many times have we heard “pay their fair share”??? HALF THE COUNTRY PAYS NOTHING!!!! How is ZERO a “fair share”? Yet IDIOTS believe the “rich” don’t pay enough?!?

    I could go on and on with examples. Voters are idiots, the system is corrupt.

  22. Bill me says:

    @juvenal-like Woolsey?

  23. Jason Valez says:

    Was a quorum present in Washington when all the democrats met there to devise a scheme to influence the redistricting? This is beyond a Brown Act violation. This type of behavior is evil, there’s no excuse for it and they should all be recalled from their positions. These are the people that were elected and apparently they are all bad. Will the ethics committee investigate them? Our representative, Michael Allen was appointed to the ethics committee after he was found guilty of ethical violations while serving on the Santa Rosa Planning Commission. I don’t believe that ‘no laws were broken’.

    This is outrageous and the only way to hold them accountable is to not vote for any democrats period. They are abusing power and need to be taught a lesson. What they did was conspiratorial. Is this what they think they were elected to do? Shame on them all.

  24. Follower says:

    “Most corrupt in the world”? Hardly! Most corrupt in American history, absolutely!
    It’s this “corruption” combined with rampant incompetence that has convinced me to support the T.E.A. Party.
    I see no other way to protect myself & my family from this corruption/incompetence than to fight to make the Government as small & irrelevant to our daily lives as possible.
    A socially impotent Government will still be corrupt & incompetent but their corruption & incompetence won’t impact our daily lives as it does now.
    It also sill tend to attract people more concerned with GOVERNING than gaining power & wealth.
    Why raise milions of dollars to spend months traveling around lying through your teeth, selling your soul to the highest bidder only to get a job that has low pay, so-so benies, no future & power over nobody?
    That’s what “Civil Service” once meant, what it’s supposed to be.

  25. Not A Chance says:

    I have a really hard time swallowing the idea that Republicans are “outraged” by the idea of political manipulation, they’ve lived on it for decades.

    Republicans hate being out maneuvered they have adverse and juvenile reactions to defeat, this is no different from any other time when the Republicans are slow on the uptake, rather than just accepting defeat they just yell louder.

    THE BEST PART ABOUT THIS IS THAT THE REPUBLICANS DEMANDED THE CITIZENS COMMISSION!! They got beat at their own game and now they are taking their ball and running home to mommy, the Republican party in California truly is well on its way to becoming a footnote.

  26. Canthisbe says:

    One more reason to vote the incumbents out.

  27. Jim says:

    Just further evidence of why the United States political system is the most corrupt in the world. Those who actually believe the system is anything but corrupt is a complete idiot.

    Every politician is a liar. Everything said is propaganda supported by complete fabrications. The media spins every story. I actually know people who believe what they read. Yes, I know people who are fools.

    Every politician is a puppet for the union or for a corporation. Bribes dictate what is done. Handouts are used to buy votes. Every dollar stolen from the people is 50% wasted and 50% used for political purposes.

    For the sane people out there I will reiterate what I’ve said over and over. Find someone who really understands the tax system and utilize every loophole possible to lessen the amount stolen from you. Every dollar you send in just keeps the corruption machine running. Get out of this state as soon as possible because taxes will keep rising on those earn so the politicians can redistribute it for votes. It is as clear as day. The whole system is bankrupt because they spend significantly more than they steal. Yet, budgets keep expanding. The numbers don’t lie, the politicians do.

  28. Juvenal says:

    “Manipulate” seems extreme. The GOP should run better candidates.