Redistricting Hearing: A lesson in Democracy

SANTA ANA — I guess I suspected a bunch of people who had already made up their minds to be sitting on the Dias. I expected the room to be about as empty as a city Council meeting towards its end as well. To say the least, what I saw on Friday night at the Orange County Public Hearing for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission exceeded my expectations, in a good way.

La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza waiting to address the Citizen's Redistricting Commission, Photo: Chris Prevatt

Although the commission also takes public testimony in writing, the act of people coming out in  person to express their thoughts on how their community’s political boundaries will be drawn for the next 10 years was an enlightening process to watch. More than 70 citizens signed up to speak. many, if not most spoke of the need to keep their cities whole, and most of the districts completely within the boundaries of Orange County. Councilwoman Rose Espinoza of La Habra, and Mayor Carolyn Cavecche of Orange pointed out to the commission how their cities are currently split among multiple Assembly, Senate, and Congressional districts to the great confusion of their residents.

Veteran of this process, LULAC's Zeke Hernandez testifies before the commission. Photo: Chris Prevatt

Several leaders in the Latino community, such as Zeke Hernandez, and Al Amezcua, spoke eloquently of the need to maintain the character of the central Orange County districts that represent the bulk of Orange County’s Latino population. Many speakers spoke in favor of keeping Santa Ana for the most part intact and splitting Anaheim, the county’s largest city in half, separating the central and western areas away from the northeast area of Anaheim Hills.

But the most effective and pervasive argument of the night was the support by Orange County’s Asian Pacific-Islander community for boundaries to be drawn that keep their communities together. Be it the Asian communities of west central and north western Orange County or the Korean American Communities of Yorba Linda, Placentia and Fullerton, or the Taiwanese community of Irvine, they all wanted to be kept together. But the dragon in the room was the effort of the Orange County Vietnamese community to have legislative districts that keep whole the Vietnamese-American community of central Orange County. Specifically, more than a couple dozen speakers argued that the cities of Garden Grove, Westminster, Fountain Valley, and unincorporated Midway City be kept together to provide the opportunity for the Vietnamese community to improve their political representation at the legislative level.

Lan Nguyen, Tri Ta, and Tyler Diep wait to address the Citizen's Redistricting Commission, Photo: Chris Prevatt

Like the Latino community had argued the over the past few decades, the interests of the largest Vietnamese-American community outside of Vietnam should be represented by elected leaders who reflect the cultural and ethnic demographics of the community.

I would be surprised if the Commission doesn’t try to figure out a way to balance the needs of the Vietnamese-American and Latino communities and draw the lines in a way that better reflects the character and needs of both. The Commission members were attentive, probing in their questioning of witnesses, and sincerely interested and committed to completing the massive task at hand in a fair and non-partisan way.

After watching them in action on Friday night, I am far more convinced that they will do their best to accomplish their charge as was demanded by the voters.

People may still present written testimony to the Commission at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov. You may also view the video of the entire meeting as soon as it is posted on the website.

  1 comment for “Redistricting Hearing: A lesson in Democracy

  1. cook
    May 9, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I went to the “We draw the lines” meeting last Friday, and most of people who testified were local politicians, their employees or members of their staffs, all singing the same song, “please draw the lines to protect my current district or power base.”

    The elected representatives of the districts are responsible to the residents they represent and not to a particular city of county. To make city lines as the primary characteristic of a district, makes it appear that the City is who the office holder represents and not the residents within their district.

    The borders of the many cities and counties are static and fixed, the population expands and contracts continuously. The VRA and the requirement to address the “communities of interest” while drawing the lines demands that city and county boarder should have little to no impact on where the district lines are drawn.

    It is time to end the drawing of district lines to protect or promote local chiefdoms.

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