California Legislature Upset by New Political Maps
Much of the fallout stems from the new jigsaw-like legislative maps required every decade after the national census recalculates the state’s population.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — New political maps have upended the California Legislature this year pushing more than two dozen state lawmakers into early retirement or career changes, while others are forced to surrender in new districts unknown before the November elections.
Democrats still far outnumber Republicans in both legislative chambers. But all the maneuvers endanger Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s power base and have forced Senate Pro Tempore Speaker Toni Atkins to step in to avert June 7 primary battles between her Democratic members.
In one case, two deputies from the San Francisco Bay Area clashed in a pillow fight simulation after being lured into the same new neighborhood. But Evan Low eventually said he would move to a nearby neighborhood to avoid a fight with Marc Berman.
Much of the fallout comes from new legislative puzzle maps required every decade after the national census recalculates the state’s population. California’s political maps are drawn by a randomly selected Citizens’ Redistricting Commission whose members are not allowed to consider whether new district lines jeopardize sitting lawmakers.
The number of seats in motion has not been seen since the last redistricting a decade ago, said legislative historian Alex Vassar of the California State Library. It’s also unusual, he said, because only seven lawmakers, all senators, are leaving due to term limits, up from 17 lawmakers in 2016.
Some of the departures include Democratic Assembly members who were elected with Rendon in the last year of redistricting, in 2012. Like him, they were all eligible to serve until 2024.
Among them are Assembly Speaker pro tempore Kevin Mullin and Rudy Salas, both congressional candidates; Lorena Gonzalezwho left midterm to lead the California Labor Federation; Ed Chau, appointed to a Los Angeles County judgeship; and Jim Frazierwho also resigned mid-term.
In addition, Democratic Class of 2012 members Richard Bloom, Tom Daly, Bill Quirk and Mark Stone chose not to seek re-election, with Stone saying it would be “intrinsically unfair” to voters if he ran in a new district for only two years.
“The redistricting creates a lot of opportunity and a lot of churn,” said Rob Pyers, research director of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which follows the redistricting closely.
A typical election cycle could see fewer than half a dozen incumbents fail to seek re-election for a variety of reasons, he said.
This time there are 26 unincumbent races in the 80-member Assembly, while 10 of the 20 Senate seats in the November ballot will be unincumbent. Half of the 40 members of the Senate are elected every two years, while all members of the Assembly stand for election every two years.
Rendon is among those who see benefits in the upheaval, saying the changes “add new energy to our home”.
What some call this the “great resignation” of the Legislative Assembly, Susannah Delano, executive director of Close the Gap, sees it as the “great opportunity” to elect more women.
About 80% of incumbent lawmakers are men, making this year “the start of California’s best opportunity yet to elect a legislature that raises the national bar for fairness,” said Delano, whose organization promotes progressive legislative candidates. Prior to this year’s early departures, 39 of California’s 120 lawmakers were women.
Across the Capitol rotunda, Atkins did not face the same midterm defections. She helped defuse an intraparty battle in the Central Valley when Senator Melissa Hurtado agreed to move to the new 16th Senate District rather than face fellow Democrat Anna Caballero in the 14th Senate District.
This pits Hurtado, with Atkins’ pledge of support from the Senate Democratic caucus, against former Democratic congresswoman Nicole Parra. And Senator Connie Leyva chose not to seek re-election when she was grouped in the same senatorial district as fellow Democrat, Senator Susan Rubio.
On the Republican side, Sen. Andreas Borgeas dropped out of his re-election bid rather than play musical chairs with Sen. Shannon Grove for the same seat.
Several Assembly members also chose not to seek re-election rather than run against other Democrats after being drawn into the same legislative districts. But in the San Francisco Bay Area, former Assemblyman Kansen Chu is trying to unseat incumbent and fellow Democratic Assemblyman Alex Lee. youngest legislator in decades.
On the Republican side, Assemblymen Thurston Smith and Tom Lackey are running for the same seat, as are Randy Voepel and former GOP leader Marie Waldron. And two incumbents from opposing parties — Democrat Cottie Petrie-Norris and Republican Steve Choi — are competing in a Southern California district.
Chad Mayes, former GOP leader in the Assembly, is now the sole independent in the Legislative Assembly; Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham; and Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell are all retiring even though each could serve at least four more years.
Four Democratic lawmakers are giving up their seats to run for higher posts: Assembly members Cristina Garcia and Adam Gray and Senator Sydney Kamlager are running for Congress, while Congressman Marc Levine is running for the job of insurance commissioner of the ‘State.
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley leaves to challenge fellow Republican and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones for an open seat in Congress. And Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper leaves to pick up Jones’ old job as sheriff.