A statewide citizens' commission on Friday tentatively approved new legislative and congressional districts for California, setting off rampant speculation and real-world maneuvering among local politicians.
The new districts – covering Congress, Assembly and the state Senate – create opportunities for some and disappointment for others. They also offer the tantalizing possibility of at least one epic local clash and a battle between longtime allies.
But one question is: Will the plan hold? Commission members are scheduled to give final approval to the maps Aug. 15, but some insiders predict legal action.
That could put the process in limbo, leaving it to the courts. It wouldn't be the first time. In 1973 and in 1991, special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court drew boundary lines.
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Visalia Republican Devin Nunes complained that too many counties and cities are split in the new maps.
"I was very supportive of the process," said Nunes, whose congressional seat is safely Republican in the new plan. "Sadly, what will happen now is it will likely end up in the courts."
Commission members said it was hard to draw lines in the Fresno area because of provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect minority voters.
Under the act, the U.S. Justice Department must give permission before either neighboring Kings County or Merced County is divided among districts, so each of those counties is kept intact. That limits options for Fresno County.
Among other areas of concern, the state Senate district that covers north Fresno and Clovis includes areas as far off as Death Valley and the southeastern Sacramento suburbs. The good news for Fresno County is that the population center of that district is local.
The initial commission proposal had Clovis and other parts of eastern Fresno County in a state Senate district that ran south to Bakersfield.
Foothill and mountain residents of Fresno and Madera counties, meanwhile, are part of a congressional district whose population center is in Placer County, northeast of Sacramento, and includes Lake Tahoe.
The district is currently represented by Republican Tom McClintock, whose base is in the far-off town of Granite Bay. His district would now include the part of Fresno County roughly east of the Friant-Kern Canal.
Mountain residents were dismayed when the commission released its first set of maps in June, and the commission has changed the lines little since then.
Debbie Poochigian, a Fresno County supervisor whose district covers the eastern foothills and mountains, criticized the plan.
"It is very disrespectful of the people here, I think," she said. "The only thing the McClintock district has in common is elevation."
Of all the changes between the first map and Friday's final map release, the most Valley changes were in the state Senate.
The maps will be in effect for 10 years. Now that they are essentially final, Valley politicians are lining up their futures. And the maneuvering likely will result in a huge change in the region's political makeup.
Since 2004, Fresno Democrat Jim Costa has represented the 20th Congressional District, which included 40% of Fresno and stretched south, through Kings County to Bakersfield and parts of Kern County.
But Costa's downtown Fresno condominium and the southern half of the city are now going to be in a district that runs north through Madera County and includes all of Merced County.
That also happens to be a good chunk of Merced Democrat Dennis Cardoza's congressional district.
Unless one backs down, the two friends and longtime political allies could face each other to stay in Congress.
Rumors are rampant that Cardoza will retire from Congress. On Friday, Costa pointed out that Fresno is his political base and 45% of the new district's population would be in Fresno County. He also said he has represented 75% of the district at one time or another in his long political career.
Costa also has scheduled an Aug. 17 fundraiser that will feature Gov. Jerry Brown.
Still, he also knows he would tread on Cardoza's territory.
"Dennis Cardoza and I are friends and allies and obviously will have to work this out," he said.
Robin Roberts, Cardoza's chief of staff, said her boss "thinks the new district is good. Merced is his home and so that is the only district he would consider running in."
But she refused to commit Cardoza to any campaign and declined to comment on facing off with Costa, although she noted the two are good friends.
Lots of shuffling
If, as expected, Costa opts to run in the district where his home is, it will cause a domino effect across the Valley that could end up not only affecting Congress, but possibly even Henry T. Perea and the state Assembly.
The old Costa district running from Fresno to Bakersfield – which will now be numbered as 21 – would be up for grabs. Costa barely won re-election to the seat last year, and the new proposal has made it more favorable for Republicans.
On Friday, Assembly Member David Valadao, R-Hanford, said he would seek the seat. Already, he has set up a federal campaign committee.
"I'm going to go forward with it," he said. "I still like my life as a dairyman. This isn't something that I need to do; this is something where I feel I can make a difference."
But some political analysts think this could be an epic battle if state Sen. Michael Rubio, a Bakersfield Democrat, also seeks the seat.
Rubio didn't return a call seeking comment, but earlier said it would be an honor to serve in Congress. Because Rubio isn't up for re-election for his state Senate seat until 2014, he could run for Congress and not lose the Senate seat if he failed.
"That'll be quite a race if the two of them run," said political analyst Tony Quinn, a former Republican legislative staffer.
Still, he said it will be a battle for Rubio, "especially in a year when I don't think [President Barack] Obama – or Democrats – are going to be real popular in the Central Valley."
A Rubio win would really reshape the Valley's political landscape.
For starters, it would open up his state Senate seat. That would be a perfect jump, political watchers said, for Perea, who is serving his first term in the Assembly. And if that happened, then his Fresno-based Assembly seat would open up to somebody new – most likely a Democrat.
But change would be in the air for more than just the Valley's west side.
The GOP-leaning state Senate district that runs from north Fresno and Clovis to Death Valley and north to near Sacramento could bring out some high-profile Republicans.
Among them are former Congressman George Radanovich and Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow, although Bigelow said Friday he is undecided whether he will seek a seat in the Assembly or state Senate. Assembly Member Linda Halderman is another possibility.
The seat, held by Modesto Republican Tom Berryhill, will not be open until 2014, giving hopefuls plenty of time to prepare.
Overall, Fresno State political science professor Jeffrey Cummins said, the new districts will be better for the political process.
"The potential is that you'd have more competitive races as a result of incumbents squaring off against one another," he said. "That's not a bad thing. It drives voter turnout and interest in races. That's a good thing."
Read more at the Sacramento Bee's Capitol Alert