Dreier: Arnold’s Ally, Except on One Issue
On Thursday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will meet with the Golden State’s assembled House Members to discuss how to bring more federal dollars back to California. When he does, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the governor’s closest Capitol Hill ally, will be sitting in a place of prominence.
Yet, despite their close ties, the two California Republicans are finding themselves on opposite sides of the reform-minded governor’s latest signature issue: redistricting.
Schwarzenegger, expressing his frustration with the state’s incumbent-friendly Congressional and legislative maps, has thrown his support behind a bill in the state Assembly that would empower a panel of retired judges, rather than legislators, to draw new maps, and do so in 2006, more than four years before they would otherwise be redrawn.
Dreier, the chairman of the state’s GOP delegation, personally drew the current map with Democrat Michael Berman, the brother of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). That makes it difficult for Dreier to denounce those lines as an affront to democracy, the way Schwarzenegger has.
“I don’t think David is in a position to change something he helped make happen,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R), one of a minority of Members in the California House delegation who actively support the governor’s reform.
As Schwarzenegger is fond of pointing out, not one of California’s legislative or Congressional seats changed parties in 2004, giving incumbent Members more than a passing interest in the matter. Indeed, Dreier is seen as one of the incumbent lawmakers whose re-election could be put in jeopardy if his district lines are altered next year.
Dreier won re-election in 2004 with just 57 percent of the vote against a weak challenger, largely because two popular local radio hosts attacked the Rules chairman for allegedly being soft on immigration.
While Dreier’s seat remains solidly Republican, he has Democratic districts to his south, east and west and could thus be vulnerable under a new set of lines.
“Whenever you talk about redistricting, David Dreier’s got to be worried,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
For those and other reasons, Dreier has been working overtime to convince Schwarzenegger to at least postpone any drastic alteration of the Congressional map.
“He supports Gov. Schwarzenegger’s efforts to reform the system, but he believes that the Congressional lines would best be redrawn after the 2010 Census with the new numbers,” said Dreier spokeswoman Jo Maney.
As an early Congressional supporter of Schwarzenegger, Dreier did all he could to boost the movie star’s chances in the 2003 recall election, raising money, rounding up endorsements and providing strategic advice. Given that backdrop, the governor obviously respects Dreier’s opinion.
“If anyone were going to talk him off this, Dreier is the one to do it,” said California Republican consultant Dan Schnur.
At the same time, the fate of the redistricting proposal will likely be determined not by the pleas of Dreier or the rest of the Congressional delegation but rather by Schwarzenegger’s ability to leverage his popularity with California voters — especially if the issue ends up as a ballot initiative.
“When Schwarzenegger got into the race, Dreier was a supporter,” said Issa. “Dreier signed on to the governor’s agenda, not the other way around.”
To be sure, Dreier isn’t the only Member who believes the next remap should come after 2010.
When Dreier relays his concerns to the governor, he’s also “doing it on behalf of the delegation,” said Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant who is pushing a ballot initiative that would redraw legislative seats next year but hold off on Congressional remapping.
A competing initiative, authored by Republican activist Ted Costa, hews more closely to the state Assembly bill by calling for all the lines to change next year.
Gilliard and other observers said they believe a majority of the state’s 20-member House GOP delegation agrees with Dreier that their districts should not be altered before the next census.
But while a majority of lawmakers may favor that approach, Schnur pointed out that Schwarzenegger could actually use the opposition of sitting GOP lawmakers to his political advantage.
“Democrats have been accusing him of trying to implement a partisan power play, but if he can point to angry incumbent politicians in both parties, he positions himself above the fray,” Schnur said.
While Schwarzenegger is pushing reform because he is frustrated by the intransigence of the strongly Democratic state Legislature, some Republican lawmakers fear that reform could hurt California’s powerful House GOP delegation, which holds six full-committee chairmanships and three of the four “A” committee gavels.
For that reason, the National Republican Congressional Committee could eventually be persuaded by Dreier and others to weigh in against the proposal. So far, though, it has stayed out of the fight.
While acknowledging that the NRCC is most likely “not going to get involved,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a redistricting-
reform proponent, predicted that “if they did, it would be on the negative side.”
Still, Nunes and his allies make two arguments: that redistricting is the right thing to do regardless of the partisan outcome, and that it might help the GOP’s numbers rather than hurt them.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) argued that the GOP probably couldn’t do any worse than the current 33-20 House breakdown.
“The only way we could do worse is if we ran a slate of vagrants, miscreants and felons,” Lungren said.
For the most part, Democrats in the delegation haven’t spoken out about the proposal, but privately they appear to be split, with some worried about the fate of their seats and others calling for reform to move full-speed ahead.
“If we’re going to do it, we should do it now,” said Waxman, adding that sitting lawmakers have so many built-in advantages that they shouldn’t need gerrymandered lines to help them keep their seats.
“I’m unsympathetic whenever incumbents cry that they need not only those advantages but safe districts as well,” he said.