Foreshadowing a possible confrontation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), California’s House Republican delegation is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to include Congressional seats in any redistricting-overhaul deal he reaches with the Democratically controlled Legislature.
In a letter on its way to Schwarzenegger obtained by Roll Call, all 19 of California’s House Republicans asked the governor to reject
any redistricting reform legislation that includes state Assembly and state Senate districts, but not Congressional seats. In 2005 Pelosi helped bankroll the opposition to Schwarzenegger’s redistricting-overhaul proposal, which failed at the polls, and her office indicated that she remains cool to the idea of reforming the remapping process.
Signatories to the GOP letter include several California Republicans who previously opposed the overhaul of their state’s political districts — among them Rep. John Doolittle, who had been openly hostile to the idea, and Rep. David Dreier, who in 2005 was reluctantly supportive after failing to convince Schwarzenegger to abandon his push to revamp the Congressional remap process.
“I found that this issue unites us,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who circulated the letter, said Monday.
The change of heart has been attributed to timing and politics.
Four proposed amendments to the California Constitution are now before the state Legislature, with some including changing the way Congressional seats are drawn and some only focused on the state Assembly and the state Senate.
Schwarzenegger’s office said the governor is committed to including Congressional districts in any overhaul he negotiates. But the Speaker’s office said Monday that Pelosi is lukewarm to any redistricting reform proposal that only addresses California and does not involve a national fix.
“We would have to see the specifics of any California proposal,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for the Speaker’s office, said. “But [Pelosi] does maintain a preference for a national standard.”
Hammill noted that in the 109th Congress Pelosi was a co-sponsor of a bill that would legislate a national standard for the decennial redistricting process, and said the only reason she dropped her co-sponsorship in this Congress is because of her new position as Speaker.
However, in 2005 Pelosi tapped the national network of heavyweight Democratic donors for millions of dollars that were spent to defeat Proposition 77 — the Schwarzenegger redistricting initiative that appeared on a November special election ballot the same year. Both Democrats and Republicans based in California expect the Speaker to reprise the role of initiative-killer if a similar measure shows up on the ballot again next year.
“People [in Sacramento] view the Congressional stuff as a poison pill,” said one California Democrat. “If there are Congressional lines in [any new ballot initiative], there will be a spirited campaign against it, and it will die.”
Although Congressional Republicans didn’t actively campaign against Schwarzenegger’s initiative in 2005, they — with a few exceptions — generally sat on their hands.
The proposal rejected by voters that year would have taken the power to draw Congressional and state legislative districts away from the Legislature, and transferred it to an independent commission of retired judges. Much of the battle then was over the political and ethnic make-up of the proposed commission, as well as who would appoint its members.
The latest proposals being bandied about by the Legislature also would seek to remove the Legislature from the remap process, though they differ as to the exact changes that would be made and whether Congress would be included in the overhaul. Some of the measures also would ease term limits for state legislators, who are limited to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate.
If something passes the Legislature this year, it could go before the voters in 2008, either on the February presidential primary ballot, the June state legislative and Congressional primary ballot or the November general election ballot.
California’s House Republicans are now on board with a Congressional fix, as evidenced by the letter mailed to Schwarzenegger this week, which all 19 Members signed personally.
“It is vital that any reform undertaken must include Congressional districts,” read the letter to Schwarzenegger from California’s House GOP delegation. “The inclusion of all districts within the state is essential to restoring accountability in both Sacramento and Washington.”
The House Republicans’ letter reflects the march of time — and the GOP’s diminished status on Capitol Hill.
Unlike the 2005 measure, which would have been implemented for the 2006 elections, the proposals now under consideration would not take effect until the next regularly scheduled round of redistricting in 2011. Also, the GOP delegation did not want to put any of its six committee chairmen in jeopardy by creating any unnecessarily competitive seats.
With House Republicans now in the minority, the loss of committee chairmanships is no longer an issue for them, though California Democrats now hold the gavel in four standing committees.
“Congressman Dreier doesn’t have a problem with an independent commission,” Dreier Chief of Staff Brad Smith said. “But mid-decade, the state could have lost three committee chairmen, even if we didn’t lose seats.”