Clovis News

Valley political battle lines take shape

A statewide citizens commission charged with the once-a-decade redrawing of California's congressional, Assembly and state Senate districts on Friday proposed a radical overhaul of the region's political landscape.

The California Redistricting Commission's first set of draft maps would bring new political representatives to Fresno County, while sending others away.

The maps could also set in motion new challenges and opportunities among the central San Joaquin Valley's elected officials, as well as those who might be eyeing a run for office.

But for now, at least, the lines are not set in stone.

The map proposals are the commission's first release. Next up: public meetings -- including one in Fresno -- before commissioners release updated maps.

On June 23, the Redistricting Commission will host a Fresno meeting to hear public input. In addition, The Greenlining Institute, a national policy and leadership organization that promotes racial and economic justice, plans a noon meeting Wednesday at Fresno City College.

The deadline for the final maps is Aug. 15.

"It's important to remember that this is the first step," said Rep. Devin Nunes, a Visalia Republican who said he felt that overall, the state commission did a good job of drawing the districts.

Still, the local political world is buzzing over the proposed maps.

"Everyone has to consider their political futures," said Tom Holyoke, a political science professor at California State University, Fresno.

That means politicians may have to answer to a whole new group of constituents and those constituents may have to get used to a new representative.

Five congressmen for Fresno County?

Fresno County, for instance, would be represented by five different congressmen. That would give the county -- population 930,450 -- more members of Congress than 18 states.

Three of those districts are already in the county. They are the 21st Congressional District, currently represented by Nunes; the 20th, now held by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa; and the 18th, now represented by Merced Democrat Dennis Cardoza.

Fresno County's foothill residents would fall into one of two districts -- one currently held by Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy, the other by Elk Grove Republican Tom McClintock. And that's causing some angst in the mountains.

Squaw Valley, for instance, would be represented by McCarthy, whose district is based in Bakersfield. Shaver Lake would be represented by McClintock, whose district home is nearly 200 miles to the north in Placer County.

"People need their representatives to be accessible," said Lisa Lambert, president of the Shaver Lake Chamber of Commerce. "Realigning Shaver with a district run out of [Placer County] really creates some challenges to that access."

Lambert also didn't like that the foothill town of Auberry would be in one district (Nunes'), Shaver Lake in another and Squaw Valley in a third.

"Our interests are more aligned with Fresno than with the other areas," Lambert said.

Lambert plans to alert members of the Shaver Lake chamber about the upcoming commission meeting in Fresno.

Michelle DiGuilio of Stockton, who is the only one of 14 commissioners from the San Joaquin Valley, said she and her fellow commissioners want feedback from Fresno-area residents on how the maps can be improved.

"We know [residents] will have comments," she said, "but we also want solutions. Tell us where we got it wrong, and then tell us how to solve it."

DiGuilio said drawing the lines was a tough task.

It was even more difficult for the Fresno region, she said, because it is stuck between Kings and Merced counties, which are subject to the federal Voting Rights Act. The law, designed to prohibit disenfranchisement of minorities, keeps counties whole within districts.

While Fresno County would have more representatives in Congress, the city of Fresno would be split in two, instead of the current three parts.

As it is now, Atwater Republican Jeff Denham represents 40% of the city, Costa 40% and Nunes 20%. The new plan would have Cardoza's district covering about two-thirds of the city and Nunes' the rest.

Denham's 19th District, which currently runs from Stanislaus County through the foothills and mountains to Madera and Fresno counties, would instead likely take in all of Stanislaus County and a bit of San Joaquin County.

Long-distance state Senate seats

As jumbled as the congressional lines are, the state Senate lines are even more twisted.

Fresno County would be split into three, with two districts running from Fresno to the south and a third running from Fresno north through the foothills to Placer County.

Clovis would go from being in a district based in Modesto to one based in Bakersfield.

That's not a problem, said Clovis City Council Member Lynne Ashbeck: "Competent service is competent representation. It doesn't matter where you live."

Ashbeck acknowledged that it would be hard for a Clovis resident to win election to a Bakersfield-based state Senate seat.

But Clovis isn't alone. Half of Fresno County would be represented by Bakersfield-based state Senate districts.

Not much change for Valley Assembly seats

The state Assembly proposals are the easiest to understand.

Fresno County would be divided in two -- east and west. The western seat is the one currently held by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, and the eastern seat by Fresno Republican Linda Halderman.

Tulare County -- as well as a bit of northern Kern County -- would be the district currently held by Tulare Republican Connie Conway. The proposal makes Conway's Assembly district much more compact than her current district, which stretches across the high desert all the way to Needles on the Arizona border.

The district currently held by Hanford Republican David Valadao would no longer include Fresno County. It would be in Kings and Kern counties.

Possible new battlegrounds

As political watchers take a close look at the lines, there is already speculation on political movement.

University of California at Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain said Cardoza, for one, will have to battle to keep his 18th Congressional District seat, which drops Democratic areas of Stockton and instead binds Merced with Madera and Fresno counties.

"That's not to say he can't win, but it will be more difficult," Cain said.

But some Republicans think Cardoza's seat is an easier hold for Democrats. It is Costa's seat that they think they can win.

At a glance, Costa's district looks a lot like its current configuration. On closer inspection, the district would no longer represent any part of the city of Fresno, which included a lot of registered Democrats.

"If this was a partisan gerrymandering, I'd say Costa got thrown under the bus," Holyoke said.

Already, two rising South Valley political stars left the door open for a run in the 20th Congressional District.

Valadao said in a statement that "the moment the maps were released I began getting phone calls and emails from friends and supporters asking me to run for Congress."

After noting that his Assembly district overlaps much of the 20th Congressional District, Valadao said he'll spend "the next few days discussing this new opportunity with my wife and children in order to make a decision that is best for my family and those in the Central Valley."

And Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio, who also noted that his state Senate district is much like the 20th, said that while "it is an honor to serve in the California state Senate, it would be a greater honor to serve in the United States Congress."

Some political watchers are speculating that Costa may leave his 20th District seat and seek Cardoza's 18th District seat. In fact, today's maps show Costa's downtown Fresno condominium in Cardoza's district.

Costa, who is traveling in Kuwait, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Cardoza might seek the congressional seat based in Stockton. But on Friday, the Merced Democrat gave no indication of looking elsewhere.

"I enjoy and look forward to continuing to represent the citizens of the Central Valley and I intend to run in the district that encompasses my home county of Merced," he said.

Former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, who lost in a bid against Denham for the 19th District nomination in 2010, is often talked about as somebody who might once again seek elected office. But he said Friday that it was too early to speculate on a run.

"I think this is a snapshot of what might be," he said. "There are more hearings -- and likely litigation -- to come."

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