LA Members Face Tough Choices and Races

Posted June 15, 2011 at 7:07pm

Los Angeles-area Democrats are facing the possibility of two smashmouth duels between Members next year that could last through November if the final Congressional lines look anything like the first-draft map released last week.

LA is a logjam, as some Members will need to move into districts they have not represented and two Republicans, Reps. David Dreier and Gary Miller, are likely to be drawn out completely.

“At least one of the incumbents is going to get screwed,” one LA-based Democratic consultant said of area Democrats under the new Congressional map.

In the San Fernando Valley in the northern end of LA County, Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman were drawn into the same district, with large areas of their current districts redrawn into a Latino-majority district.

Berman announced just hours after the map was released Friday that he intended to run in the district his home was drawn into. About half of that new district, however, is part of Sherman’s current district, and Sherman is not prepared to back down.

At the southern end of LA County, Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson and Linda Sánchez were drawn into a district that includes all of Long Beach.

That area no longer includes large African-American populations in the cities of Compton and Carson, which are now in a new district sliced between the Beach Cities and Long Beach.

One LA-based Democratic insider said Sánchez is already calling Democrats in the area asking for support in a possible bid against Richardson. But it is still not clear whether either would run in that district.

“We expect there to be some clashes of the titans with Democrats in our Congressional races in LA,” Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said. “As much as I always look forward to exciting campaigns, I would just as soon the districts get better so that Sherman and Berman, and Richardson and Sánchez don’t have to run against each other. But we’ll see what the commission is going to do.”

According to analyses from insiders, Democrats would likely pick up two to four seats statewide if the first-draft map holds. But the districts are not finalized, and in forthcoming hearings around the state, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will likely hear from supporters of incumbents who got the short end of the stick.

The new western San Fernando Valley district includes just more than half of Sherman’s current district, about one-fifth of Berman’s district and a big chunk of Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D) district that had been carved out of Sherman’s area in 2001 redistricting.

In separate interviews with Roll Call, Berman and Sherman played down talk of a rift between them that arose from the last redistricting, but each indicated they are prepared for battle if the final lines do not change much.

“They’ve created a district that is absolutely perfect for me. … I’m the West San Fernando Valley guy,” Sherman said. “Did you notice that they called this the West San Fernando Valley district?”

In an effort to remove incumbency as a factor in the redrawing of the lines, the 14-member commission did not number the districts — they named them based on their area. There is also an East San Fernando Valley district that is 50 percent Latino voting-age population.

One Democratic insider said it is not a foregone conclusion that Berman could not win there. The lines have not been cemented yet, so it could be drawn to become even more inviting for Berman.

But Berman maintained he will run in the district where his house is, and that is currently the western valley district.

“I certainly have no desire to have this fight. But it is not up to me, it’s up to the commission,” Berman said. “I will run where I live.”

Sherman has a stronger war chest and more current constituents in the proposed district, but Berman has proved over the years that he can fundraise quickly and has strong ties within the Democratic Party in LA and statewide. Berman is also close with Waxman and may be able to count on his support in the still-hypothetical race.

Because of the way the new district is drawn, however, one insider said Sherman could be the benefactor. “I think there are advantages for him that could neutralize Howard’s otherwise tremendous advantages,” the Democrat said.

In Long Beach, Democratic insiders are watching closely to see where everyone decides to run. Sánchez’s horseshoe-shaped district has been carved up, and it is still unclear where she will end up.

It could depend on whether Rep. Grace Napolitano (D), who would be in a heavily Latino district just north of the Long Beach district, runs again. She will be 75 by Election Day, and insiders said she is a candidate for retirement.

Another incumbent who appears to be stuck is Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D), who was drawn into a district with Rep. Xavier Becerra (D), a longtime ally whom insiders say she is unlikely to run against.

Richardson could run in a new district to the west of Long Beach that includes Gardena, Compton and Carson.

In an interview with Roll Call, Richardson said the first draft splits her district almost equally in two, with about
57 percent in Long Beach and 42 percent in the district to the west. Her hope is that in the next few weeks her constituents will weigh in and the commission will decide to keep her district intact so she can continue working on issues that face the whole area.

“So far it’s very positive on my end because either way it would be almost equal,” Richardson said. “Either way, having almost 50 percent is very positive. I’m going to hope for a little bit more so we can continue the work that we’re doing.”

Insiders said no matter which district Richardson runs in, she is likely to face a strong challenge from a state legislator. There is a possibility that state Sen. Rod Wright (D) runs in the Compton district, while in the Long Beach district state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D), whose name one insider called a “dynasty” in that area, is expected to run.

“I think it’s way too preliminary to stake out a claim and say one or the other,” Richardson said. “Once the commission comes out officially, I’ll obviously have to make a choice.”