Get Ready for Redistricting Dominoes to Fall

With the beginning of the new year, work now begins on the drawing of California’s new legislative and congressional lines.

Several years back, voters enacted a ballot measure to give the power to draw district lines to an independent citizen’s commission.  They will produce final maps by fall 2021, which will be in place for the 2022 elections.

Depending on how the legal battles over the Trump administration’s policy to exclude the counting of illegal immigrants from the Census shakes out – the Supreme Court last month rejected a challenge as premature, but future litigation or the incoming Biden administration could change things – California is on track to lose a seat in Congress.

Given their dwindling political fortunes over the past decade, one might expect the new district lines might further disadvantage Republicans.  That may not necessarily be true.

Remember that this process is about ensuring the new district lines affect both the state’s population and demographic changes.  Expect to see shifts around the state under the new lines to reflect these shifts.

Looking at the most recent population estimates from the Department of Finance before the release of the 2020 Census, Republican-leaning areas of the state have been growing at a faster rate than traditional liberal power centers over the past decade.

Los Angeles County’s population, for example, has grown by just 3.6 percent since 2010.  Meanwhile, Placer County’s population has grown by 15.86 percent, San Joaquin by 12.89 percent, Riverside by 11.54 percent, Merced by 10.84 percent, and Fresno by 9.9 percent.  If those trends hold in the Census, a power shift toward the Central Valley and Inland Empire in Congress and the State Legislature would favor Republicans and business-friendly Democrats over big city liberals.

Additionally, as I predicted during our annual “PRI All Stars Year-End Awards” episode of “Next Round” podcast, look for the new district lines to favor new blood over long-time incumbents.

Consider that twenty members of California’s congressional delegation are 66 years of age or older.  Ten have served at least two decades in Congress.

Modest shifts in district lines here or there to reflect demographic or population changes could easily make one of these Members of Congress a prime candidate for a primary challenge.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s rise to power knocking off a long-time Congressman who was a member of the Pelosi leadership team, ushered in dozens of well-funded primary challenges to establishment Democrat incumbents nationwide.  Good and faithful service is clearly not enough to fend off aggressive primary challenges any longer.

California’s incumbents are surely fearing the same thing could happen to them in 2022.

Central Valley Democrat Jim Costa, who is 68 and has been in Congress since 2005, faced an expensive though unsuccessful primary challenge from Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria in 2020.  Tweak his district lines in an unfavorable way and Costa may decide to head for the exits in 2022.

Rapidly changing demographics could also prompt retirements or party challenges.  For example, there are a host of Latino, Indian, and Asian would-be Members of Congress who live in South Bay districts represented by two white women – 73-year-old Zoe Lofgren and 78-year-old Anna Eshoo.  Will they all “wait in line” until the incumbents decide to retire, or might an ambitious pol or two decide to jump the gun in 2022 if they view the new district lines favorably?

The 2012 congressional elections, which were the first after the 2010 redistricting, were a wild affair resulting in several member versus member races and the defeat of six incumbents. The final returns sent 14 new Members of Congress from California to Washington.  If history is a guide, whatever the new district lines look like, get ready for a sea change in California politics come the 2022 elections. 

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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