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Old 10-29-2009, 07:50 AM
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Default State redistricting panel seeks applicants

State redistricting panel seeks applicants with time on their hands

October 27, 2009

Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Are you interested in government? Do you possess an analytical mind, an appreciation of the state's diversity and a wide-open calendar for most of 2011?

The state of California may have the job for you: Become a member of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Everyone form a line.

Within weeks, the state will start a two-month application process to fill a 14-member panel to redraw California's legislative and Board of Equalization districts after the 2010 census.

In terms of influencing the future of California, the commission will rival any in state history. Everyday voters, and not judges or politicians who drew previous maps, will determine communities' representation in Sacramento.

But the subject matter, time commitment and strict conflict-of-interest rules, have raised concerns about whether there will be enough applicants from which to create a panel that reflects California's disparate geography, ethnic makeup and other traits.

"It's going to be an uphill battle to get people to apply," said Eugene Lee, the voting rights project director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.

State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose office is overseeing the applications, said she is optimistic that there will be many qualified candidates.

Already, about 1,000 people have expressed interest in serving, she said.

"I certainly think there are thousands of people out there who have those kinds of talents and desire to be a part of the process," Howle said.

The first-of-its-kind redistricting commission is the product of Prop. 11, a November 2008 ballot measure backed by good-government groups and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The initiative arose from protests about the Legislature's 2001 remapping. Lawmakers crafted oddly shaped districts to maximize the strength of one party or the other and to protect incumbents. Only a handful of districts have switched parties since then.

The next redistricting will take place in 2011. It has significant implications for Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where the population has increased much faster than in other parts of the state. That growth should bring the area additional representation.

First, though, the state needs to get a redistricting panel in place. Over the summer, officials approved regulations to guide the application process, which opens Dec. 15 and closes Feb. 12.

The online application includes several questions. Applicants that make it to the second round will need to complete 250-word essays and turn in letters of recommendation.


To encourage applicants, Howle said her office plans a "We Draw the Lines" campaign.

There will be newspaper editorials and presentations to community groups. Organizers will rally bloggers about the commission next month and will use social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Radio advertising will begin in January.

But the effort will not be mistaken for the big-bucks campaign of a statewide race or ballot initiative. The Legislature allocated $3 million to the Prop. 11 process earlier this year, amid billions in spending cuts and tax increases to deal with major budget problems. About $500,000 has been released so far, Howle said.

"I'd love to have more, believe me," she said.

Prop. 11 sets tough standards on who can be a redistricting commissioner. For example, applicants cannot be lobbyists, must have had the same party affiliation for five years and cannot have made more than $2,000 in political contributions.

Rosalind Gold, the senior director for policy, research and advocacy at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said there are many potential Latino applicants who would be excellent commissioners but couldn't get past the conflict-of-interest rules.

"We think it's critical that there be Latino voices on that commission," she said. "We think those civic leaders are out there."

Every stage of the application process will be open to the public, Howle promised. Addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses will not be available, but the application also includes questions about people's income, their political affiliation and other information. Interviews with the 120 applicants who make the first cut also will be public.

The scrutiny could discourage some people from applying, Lee said.

"It's good for this process to be transparent. At the same time, it takes a certain type of person to be in the limelight like that," he said.

Applicants have to be willing to spend a significant amount of time -- some estimates run as high as 30 hours a week -- on commission business from early 2011 through September 2011, when the new maps are supposed to be finished. Commissioners will get $300 per diem, plus expenses.

Howle said commissioners still should be able to hold down a full-time job, but they will need to have a flexible schedule.

"If a person really is interested and committed to doing something like this, they will find a way to do it," Howle said.
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