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Warming to Arnold’s Plan?

Unlike GOP Colleagues, House Democrats Not Fighting Calif. Governor’s Remap Idea

Redistricting may well be a topic of conversation when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the presiding officers of the state Legislature meet with all 55 Members of the state’s Congressional delegation on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

But it won’t be Congressional Democrats pushing the issue — or hurling the criticism.

While Democratic leaders in Sacramento have been critical of Schwarzenegger’s proposal to change California’s redistricting process and draw new lines for both the House of Representatives and the state Legislature in advance of the 2006 elections — a skepticism shared by a number of Congressional Republicans from the Golden State — their Democratic colleagues in the House delegation have kept notably mum.

And while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed reservations about the timing and method of the proposed redistricting reform measure immediately after Schwarzenegger first endorsed it last month, Congressional Democrats have not become involved in any wargaming aimed at defeating the measure.

Heather Wong, a spokeswoman for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the chairwoman of California’s Democratic delegation, said that while Members may have discussed the governor’s plan informally among themselves, there have been no official meetings or strategy sessions among Democrats on the topic — and none is scheduled.

“There’s no need for us to be in a frenzy,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who was intimately involved in the redistricting process when district lines were drawn in Sacramento following the 2000 Census.

The simple explanation may be that many Democrats have come to the conclusion that a bipartisan redistricting process, as Schwarzenegger has proposed, will not upset the partisan balance in the state’s huge Congressional delegation.

Democrats currently hold a 33-20 edge in the House delegation. That roughly reflects the breakdown in the state’s voter enrollment.

“If they don’t do it to impose a Republican agenda, which would make Schwarzenegger look like a total hypocrite, the Democrats will come out just fine,” Berman said.

He conceded, however, that some Members may see their district boundaries altered more than they would like.

Schwarzenegger wants to take the task of redistricting for Congress and the state Legislature out of the hands of Sacramento lawmakers and placed with a bipartisan panel of retired judges. And he wants another round of redistricting to take place before the next federal elections.

Schwarzenegger has warned the leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature that if they do not pass his remap proposals (which are part of a broader package of reforms) by March 1, he will place the matter in the voters’ hands in a statewide special election later this year.

But Sacramento Democrats do not appear moved by the popular governor’s threats. The state Senate’s President Pro Tem has already pronounced the redistricting measure “DOA,” and the state Assembly Speaker has scheduled hearings on Schwarzenegger’s proposals for Feb. 28, one day before the governor’s deadline for action.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Washington, D.C., appear to be enjoying the spectacle of an overwhelming majority of the Republicans in the state’s Congressional delegation opposing Schwarzenegger’s redistricting proposal. By the count of reform advocates, only four of the state’s 20 Republican House Members have endorsed it: Reps. Darrell Issa, Dan Lungren, Devin Nunes and Bill Thomas.

Some political observers believe that one of the most powerful Republicans in the state’s Congressional delegation, House Rules Chairman David Dreier, could be vulnerable in a neutral redistricting.

“In the end, as a party, they have more to lose than we do,” Berman said.

That wasn’t necessarily the Democrats’ conclusion when Schwarzenegger first went public with his plan to pursue redistricting. Still smarting from the Republican-driven re-redistricting of Texas in late 2003, some Democrats saw a GOP plot, and conservative California activist Ted Costa, a key proponent of redistricting reform, predicted that the Republicans could pick up four House seats.

Pelosi was quick to express her reservations. She said she didn’t see the need to draw new boundaries in the middle of a decade, and also expressed a fear that because the majority of retired judges are older white men that they would not be able to create new districts with an eye toward the concerns of minority groups.

Beyond those initial remarks in January, Pelosi has barely worked the issue — and neither have the state’s Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“Clearly this is something that Leader Pelosi is monitoring and our staff is tracking very closely,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Pelosi.

But several Washington Democrats said they haven’t worked to oppose Schwarzenegger because they aren’t entirely sure what his proposal is or whether it will ultimately come before the voters.

Michael Berman, a Beverly Hills-based Democratic consultant who drew the current Congressional lines after consulting with Republican leaders — including White House political strongman Karl Rove — said he has not been asked by Congressional Democrats (including his brother the Congressman) to intervene.

“There’s nothing to be involved with yet,” Michael Berman said.

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