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Latinos, Democrats get boost in California congressional map

Mike Garcia, who won his seat by 300 votes, among Republicans who could face another tough race

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., outside the Capitol in May 2020.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., outside the Capitol in May 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

California has a new congressional map after its independent commission voted late Monday to finalize a plan increasing the number of Latino-majority districts in the state and giving Democrats a chance to pick up more seats even as the overall delegation shrinks.

Latinos make up the majority of the voting population in 16 congressional districts under the new map, and a plurality of voters in another two districts. In its 2011 map, the state had 13 districts with a majority Latino population.

California was one of a handful of states that lost a seat in reapportionment earlier this year following the release of 2020 census results. Due to relative population loss, the state’s lost seat came out of Los Angeles County. That resulted in combining the Long Beach-area seats of Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard, who both announced retirements before the map was finalized.

[California’s Roybal-Allard joins Democrats planning retirement]

Five Republicans in the state — Reps. Tom McClintock, David Valadao, Mike Garcia, Ken Calvert and Michelle Steel — may face tougher races next fall: All of their seats gained communities that made them more favorable to Democrats.

Steel, Garcia and Valadao all won close races last year in districts that also backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump for president. Garcia won his 2020 race by 300 votes and Steel unseated Rep. Harley Rouda, who is already preparing for a rematch, by a little more than 8,000 votes. Valadao ousted Rep. T.J. Cox by less than 1 percentage point.

A handful of the incumbents announced plans to run in nearby districts Tuesday, including Democratic Rep. John Garamendi running in the Sacramento-area 8th District that voted for President Joe Biden by 54 percentage points. Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, who currently represents the 45th District, would jump over to the 47th, which includes her hometown of Irvine. That district also includes Steel’s hometown; her campaign could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Constitution only requires that House members live in the state they are representing, not the specific district.

A net loss of five Democratic seats next year would give Republicans the majority, and redistricting could make the difference in many midterm elections. GOP legislatures control redistricting in 19 states, compared to eight for Democrats.

Independent commissions in a handful of states including California draw the maps. This is the second redistricting cycle for the commission, which voters adopted in 2008. The process has since attracted criticism from Republicans for favoring Democrats, who are led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

“California’s ‘independent’ redistricting commission is producing wildly contorted congressional lines that rival the extreme gerrymanders in Illinois and Maryland,” Adam Kincaid, the executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said in a statement Tuesday. “These new draft maps ignore California’s communities in a desperate attempt to try to save Nancy Pelosi’s majority.”

The Democrat-controlled legislature controls the redistricting process in both Illinois and Maryland and drew maps that experts said favor Democrats. Other states, such as Texas and Ohio, have drawn maps similarly favoring Republicans. Texas faces a lawsuit from the Biden administration alleging its map violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of minority voters.

Groups such as the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and RepresentUs have argued that commissions have drawn more fair congressional and legislative maps. The groups have not yet analyzed the map produced by California this cycle.