The 2012 elections for state Assembly and Senate are slightly less than 14 months away, and one dynamic that has already cast an added dimension to the political mix is redistricting.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years when county, state and congressional boundaries are redrawn. In 2010, Proposition 20 put a citizen commission in charge of reconfiguring legislative districts, and according to Douglas Johnson, a redistricting scholar at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, California’s new commission goes the furthest of all the state redistricting commissions in terms of how much power it gives to a panel of members largely chosen at random.
In 2012, some incumbents will find themselves termed out at the state level and seeking new offices or retiring. Other candidates will find themselves pitted against incumbents who in some cases may have similar political, economic and social views.
Marc Saltzberg, a Venice resident who has been involved for a number of years in state and regional Democratic politics, sees redistricting as another factor that candidates will have to consider in 2012.
“As political theater, it is certainly a new and interesting dynamic,” said Saltzberg, who is a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
A new coastal Assembly district has drawn three candidates who hold similar views on everything from the environment to education: Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey), Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and Torie Osborn, the former executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation.
The current 53rd District, which Butler represents, has been broken into three new ones: the 62nd, which will include Venice, Marina del Rey and communities east of Westchester; the 66th, which will likely become a more politically conservative district made up of South Bay coastal cities and Palos Verdes; and the 50th, which will include Santa Monica, Malibu and West Hollywood.
The 50th District race has generated a good deal of buzz in Democratic circles and later along the coastal areas of Los Angeles. After weeks of speculation, Butler officially announced her plans to run in the new district in The Argonaut Sept. 6, setting up a three-way race between her and two Santa Monica residents.
“I’ve been a Westsider for 24 years and I am considered the incumbent in the 50th District,” Butler told The Argonaut. “The Westside is my love.”
“I have a very strong environmental record, so it’s not as though residents (in the 50th) won’t know about my beliefs and my record.”
Venice activist Marta Evry is concerned that the new 66th could leave the district open to aerospace engineer Nathan Mintz, who was the Republican nominee last year in the 53rd and won the South Bay.
Evry began an online petition to urge Butler, who resides in Marina del Rey, to move to the new South Bay district in order to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
“We need you to stay in the South Bay and run in the 66th Assembly District as the Democratic incumbent,” the petition reads. “Because without you in the race, the declared Tea Party candidate, Nathan Mintz, will certainly win.
“As our representative in the state Assembly, we know you’ve done your best to make sure we have a voice in Sacramento. We know you’ve gotten our back,” the petition continues. “Now it’s our turn to get yours. If you stay and fight the Tea Party, we will fight with you. We will pledge you our money and our time… We will fight like hell to keep the South Bay blue and you as our representative in Sacramento.”
Butler defeated Mintz in the 2010 53rd District Assembly race.
The Paul Mitchell report, a Sacramento-based blog run by a Democratic redistricting consultant, referenced the Evry petition Sept. 6 in its bi-weekly newsletter.
“The online advocacy is cute, it pales in comparison to the voter preferences in these two districts,” the blog states. “In 2010, (Gov. Jerry) Brown won the 50th by 37 points. In that same election, (Republican gubernatorial challenger Meg) Whitman won the 66th by two points.
“Those numbers trump any petition any day.”
Saltzberg said that it is well known among party members that Evry is an Osborn supporter and he was skeptical of the reasons that Evry has given for creating the online petition, which also include helping Democrats to secure a two-thirds majority in the Assembly.
“Everyone who is active in (local Democratic circles) saw this as an attempt to get Betsy not to run against Torie,” said Saltzburg, who is backing the assemblywoman in the race.
Osborn said she is aware of the petition but was not involved in Evry’s decision to launch it.
“I applaud the activism of a constituent of Butler’s to put the people of California first,” Osborn said in an interview with The Argonaut. “I think it was a great activist attempt to redirect the conversation to the real issue, which is why Butler doesn’t stay in the district that elected her.”
There have been rumors that Assembly Speaker John Per/z has sought to influence where certain incumbents run. Per/z spokesman John Vigna said the Assembly speaker on previous occasions has asked all Democrats to do what they think is best for the party.
“The speaker has said to every member of the Democratic caucus many times that they should consider their options with respect to redistricting and make the best decisions for the Democratic Party and the Assembly caucus,” Vigna said.
Osborn, who has picked up early endorsements from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), also weighed in on how redistricting has altered the dynamics of the race in the new 50th.
“Redistricting has really changed the (legislative) map,” she acknowledged. “But the 50th is a perfect match for my resum/ and my beliefs, and I think people in the 50th, who are very independent-minded and engaged voters, will question why Assemblywoman Butler chose to abandon her district and move into a new district where she has never lived before.”
Butler, who was endorsed by the state Women’s Political Caucus shortly after her official announcement, denied that she was abandoning her constituents.
“Assemblyman Steven Bradford is the incumbent in the new 62nd and I am considered the incumbent in the 50th,” she explained. “I think it’s disappointing that the commission broke up the coastal districts, but the issues of the 53rd are very similar to those throughout Los Angeles, and I’m honored and excited to be running in the 50th District.
“I think it’s unfortunate that (Osborn) chose to use the word abandon,” the assemblywoman added. “I’m just following my heart.”