By C.J. Salgado
Every ten years, we are reminded to get a tetanus booster shot, to replace our home smoke alarms, and to return the U.S. Census form. Now, a year later, based on that census, we are in the midst of the redistricting process that also takes place every ten years to re-draw the map lines for state congressional, assembly, senate, and other districts. Unbeknownst to the majority of its residents, this process is looming over East Los Angeles like an early morning fog that moves in and out quickly before most even awake.
You see, the problem with the redistricting process is that its meaningfulness is easily lost to the intricacies of legal jargon, a fast-paced timeline for finishing the process, and political rhetoric that falls upon those that likely stand to be affected most from its outcomes, minority voters. Take East Los Angeles, for example, an unincorporated community caught in a bit of a Catch-22 situation because of two conflicting messages inadvertently arising from the internal effort to incorporate as a city, on the one hand, and the external redistricting process on the other.
The main proponents of cityhood, the East Los Angeles Residents Association, have argued that “our community is carved into several congressional, state legislative, and school districts, making government accountability difficult.” The implication is that fewer districts would be better for a more unified and focused representation.
Yet, the message coming out of other groups working to promote the participation of minorities like Latinos in the redistricting process – overseen by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission or CRC – seems to be saying just the opposite. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund (www.naleo.org), for example, responded to the Commission’s First Draft Maps by stating that “during the last decade, California’s Latino population accounted for 90% of the state’s growth, yet the Commission’s maps fail to reflect that growth by not creating fair opportunities for increased (emphasis added) Latino representation.” Also, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) released its own redistricting plans likewise calling for an additional 11 “Latino effective districts.”
No doubt, redistricting has a long-term impact on a community. In fact, a MALDEF publication states ”how and where districts are drawn in your state will often determine if your community can elect representatives of choice…[and] whether or not your elected officials respond to your needs.”
So the devil is in the details, particularly for a “community of interest” like East L.A.It’s torn between its wanting to be seen and presented as a “whole” community and outside political forces that want to organize the “voter eligible pool” of Latino residents into numerous districts for more “seats” to fill. So, as it was with the construction of the freeways that frame it, East L.A. appears again headed for the chopping block, this time by redistricting.
Three Congressional districts, three State Senate districts, and four State Assembly districts currently represent East L.A.. Because of various legal considerations like the federal Voting Rights Act, communities stand to be “split up” when the new district lines are re-drawn. “For the Eastern part of Los Angeles and the South East cities preliminary analysis shows that the general trend for the Latino community is that they are packed into districts. This is especially true in the Congressional and Assembly draft maps. The districts in these regions have very high Latino Citizen Voting Age Population Percentage (LCVAP) way above the 50% threshold,” according to Astrid Garcia, Redistricting and State Policy Manager for NALEO.
Apparently, certain “swaying” factors before the Commission can keep a community together. Take the case of the city of Long Beach, which had strong representation at past CRC public input meetings. Their chant to the CRC was to keep Long Beach together. The result in the First Draft Maps reflected their effectiveness. Unfortunately, “public testimony has been imbalanced, with traditionally engaged voters actively participating, and many underrepresented communities relying on the efforts of statewide and national organizations to represent their interests.”
What that means to East L.A. is no easy answer, certainly not something most residents care to ponder or have time for in this working-class community. It’s understandable, too, because, as noted by Juan Cartagena, a constitutional and civil rights attorney: “Redistricting is a complex, multi-layered political exercise that lends itself to strange bedfellows and nothing is as simple as it seems.”
The redistricting commission recently held public input hearings in June and took written testimony on the First Draft Maps. Unfortunately, Latino participation has been rather weak. Second Draft Maps were released on July 8. Then Final Draft Maps will go out July 28 before the Commission has to adopt the final maps by August 15, 2011.
Thus, the “fog” around redistricting seems to obscure our view. Yet soon that fog will clear and what remains we’ll have to live with for the next ten years. As they say, East L.A, speak up or forever hold your peace.
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