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LA’s Perpetual Gerrymander and the Preservation of Political Failure

Gerrymander: 1812, Gerry + (sala)mander. Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, was lampooned when his party redistricted the
state in a blatant bid to preserve an Anti-federalist majority. One Essex County
district resembled a salamander, and a newspaper editor dubbed it Gerrymander. 

It was
1992 and the political, business and civic leadership of the San Fernando
Valley put forward a  plan for redistricting the school board that City
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky warned violated Latinos civil rights and would be
thrown out in court.

 

The
so-called”Valley friendly” plan was backed by the PTA, Council
members Joel Wachs and Joy Picus, and would have preserved two school board
seats wholly in the Valley. The plan approved 11 to 2 by the Council carved the
Valley into four districts, only one wholly within it.

 

“It’s
clear cut we made the right call,” said Yaroslavsky, a possible mayoral candidate at the time, after new details
from the 1990 Census supported his stand. 


There
was so much heat, so much politics on this, that it was hard to get out the
facts. Now, the facts are here and they
ought to be disseminated. (The remap plan) may not be pretty, but it’s legal and that’s what counts.”


Flash forward two decades to
today when Yaroslavsky is again considering a run for mayor, redistricting
is again on the table, and the long-time Councilman and County Supervisor is
singing a very different tune about two plans that would redraw the Board of
Supervisors lines to create two majority Latino districts and carve the Valley
into three districts, weakening its voting power and undermining its efforts to
maintain its identity.


Yaroslavsky calls the plans “a bald-faced
gerrymander that is completely unnecessary” under the federal Voting
Rights Act since Latinos like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheriff Lee Baca an
County Assessor John Noguez have been elected with broad support from white
voters.


“Frankly,
the notion that non-minorities won’t vote for a minority candidate in L.A.
County is antiquated. Los Angeles in 2011 is not the same as the Los Angeles of
forty, thirty or even twenty years ago,” Yaroslavsky wrote on his blog. 
“Our
county is politically and socially far more mature and broad-minded.”


“I
strongly believe it’s possible to redistrict this county in a manner that
protects the voting rights of minorities without dismembering established
communities of interest, without shifting nearly 40% of our population from one
district to another and without relying on antiquated assumptions about the
voting behavior of different segments of the electorate
  The federal courts have given us the roadmap to get this done, and
have consistently rejected efforts to use the Voting Rights Act in the way the
backers of these new plans propose.


Yaroslavsky is no doubt right about the changes that have taken place since court-ordered busing to integrate LA schools triggered the “Stop Bus” movement and white flight in the 1980s — an exodus from the schools and the city that became middle-class flight in the 1990s and has left LA today with unemployment and poverty rates far higher than the county as a whole.

Race and ethnicity are not the issues they were although no one would argue there aren’t still tensions or that we are totally color-blind and beyond bias even in a region as diverse as this.

What hasn’t changed is that redistricting remains in the hands of politicians looking after themselves and more than willing to gerrymander districts to their own advantages.

Voters took redistricting power away from the state Legislature because of its outrageous abuses that led to such extensive gerrymandering that less than a handful of seats were competitive so only very liberal or very conservative candidates stood much of a chance. The result was a polarized and gridlocked Legislature. 

Despite complaints from some Republicans and some minorities, the Citizen Redistricting Commission has clearly done a much fairer job of drawing district lines for the Legislature and Congress and given hope that combined with open primaries next year, more centrist candidates will get elected.

At the city and county level, redistricting is still in the hands of the politicians and they are stacking the deck for themselves and their narrow interests.


LA’s elected officials have appointed 21 people to their redistricting committee, each like most commissioners more than willing to do the bidding of the politicians. 


In some cases, like political operative Mike Trujillo and Jose Cornejo,
recently retired chief of staff to Tony Cardenas and a likely Council
candidate, the appointments don’t even have a remote appearance of credibility.

 

Similarly,
county supervisors appointed their own Boundary Review Committee that suffers
from the same lack of independence both in appearance and reality.

 

“LA
County is redoing its district lines the old-fashioned way: The five
supervisors are proposing and voting on maps themselves
,” the Daily News said in
a recent editorial, noting the city system is laden with “conflicts of
interest” and “only the appearance of independence.”


“When the state electorate
created the independent redistricting commission in 2008, it was guided by a
sound principle: Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way
around. That’s vital if citizens are to believe their leaders are looking out
for them instead of for themselves. That’s not going to happen in L.A. this
decade.”


With all the advantages of money from special interests, one would hope that our politicians would not feel the need to gerrymander the districts as well to pre-determine the outcome of elections. But then this is LA and ordinary folks — whatever their race — don’t stand a chance.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on
the proposed redistricting plans on Tuesday, September 6, at 1:00 pm in Room
381 of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, 500 W. Temple St. 

This entry was posted in City Hall, Community Activists, Hot Topics, LAUSD, Los Angeles, The Valley and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to LA’s Perpetual Gerrymander and the Preservation of Political Failure

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Ron. Redistricting did not change
    the power structure. We must help ourselves.
    We must vote for new people who decide to run
    because they cannot take the present situation any more.
    Vote for people like Kevin James for Mayor, vote
    for Mark Reed against the establishment. He is
    candidate for Congess. And vote for Steven Box
    for city council. Vote for president in 2012 -
    the one you feel has the message you want to
    support. You do not have to vote for a party, per se. Vote for someone who loves America, not just themselves and their lust for power.

  2. Wayne from Encino says:

    UHAUL—THE REAL WAY TO REDISTRICT!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great, instead of getting people to use the convention center as Perry has been saying to bring in money, LA is starting to lose it. As reported today, “A medical association has canceled plans to hold a gathering of 5,000 members in downtown Los Angeles because of worries about being surrounded by construction if a proposal to build an NFL stadium on part of the city’s convention center campus goes forward.
    Society of Critical Care Medicine spokesman Jim Flanigan said Thursday
    Read more: http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/local/convention-canceled-over-la-stadium-building-fears-20110825#ixzz1W5ON6IVh

  4. Anonymous says:

    LA voters (that is the 13% that care to vote) are brainwashed clueless idiots and fully deserve the incompetent crooks like Villar, etc.
    I bet Charlie Manson would get elected as long as he has a D after his name.
    You people are really pitiful: lack of good paying jobs – who cares, failing schools – no problem, neighborhoods that look like slums – it’s OK. As long as you close your eyes and ears and continue this PC nonsense – you are doomed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Cardenas’ associate Jose Cornejo is not retired; he is reassigned, to the redistricting committee, where he will have maximum influence to gerrymander/control the future.
    Cornejo, like Cardenas, never gave a crap about of the poor people condemned to this district. Cornejo, like Cardenas, seeks to advance an agenda of “power”:
    First, me. Then, me. Finally, me. And above all, ME.
    To hell with the people. Let the people suffer.

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