Redistricting Proposal — A Power Grab by Democrats and Labor in the City of San Diego

Greg Larkin Greg Larkin


Let’s put aside for the moment the well-debated controversies over the partisan backgrounds of some of those holding the reins of the City of San Diego Redistricting Commission.

After all, it still comes down to the maps the Commission is to consider, whether pulled out of their hats, drawn by a consultant, proposed by the community, or some combination thereof. Even if labor interests in San Diego are behind a Commission stacking effort, are those commissioners and their rookie executive capable of a corresponding map-drawing operation without some coordinated effort from allies in the community?

Rumors have been floating for weeks, inside and outside of City Hall, that an orchestrated effort is taking place to push through the Commission a redistricting map that tilts in the political favor of Democrats and labor. The end goal? A guaranteed 6-3 Democratic majority on the Council that can override any mayoral veto.

Insiders say this effort has been facilitated by a well-known one-time Democratic candidate for office, currently employed by a local left-allied group, in coordination with Empower San Diego. That could be conjecture, that could be opinion. If true, the organizer has kept a low profile during the Redistricting Commission hearings, while a handful of coalition groups have pushed their district maps.

The LGTB Redistricting Task Force unveiled its Council District 3 proposal last week to the Redistricting Commission, showing a map that jettisons City Heights for a westward expansion that includes Centre City, Old Town, Mission Hills and Bankers Hill (see map in May 5 San Diego LGBT Weekly article).

The Latino Redistricting Committee also unveiled its proposal for a new council seat (in addition to District 8), with City Heights as its center, and including the Latino neighborhoods of Mountain View and Mount Hope (see May 5 article in San Diego Red).

That only speaks to large swaths of the city south of I-8. What of the rest?

On Wednesday, labor think tank analyst Murtaza Baxamusa presented a complete citywide map, dubbed the “Communities in Unity” plan, which largely assembles the district pieces released last week into a larger map for absolute partisan control of San Diego. (The only significant change is that the LGBT seat now stretches west to Point Loma.)

Here is the Baxamusa PowerPoint presentation.

The proposed districts and their numbering are brilliant, from a partisan tactical perspective.

Tierrasanta, District 7 Councilmember Marti Emerald’s home, is now a part of District 5.  If Emerald stays at her current residence and files for election in the new District 5, she has a tough Republican voter registration to overcome, but still enjoys the benefits of an incumbent seeking reelection, and would surely receive large contributions from Democrats and labor in an attempt to win outright in June.

Unless a seasoned candidate emerges from the right to challenge her, like a Brian Maienschein, Emerald is likely to win in District 5. In this situation, both parties would then have to recruit a candidate to run for the new District 7, which now turns from a “toss up” district to a “leans Democrat” district. The new District 7 dilutes the Republican powerhouse of Clairemont Mesa, and has more Democratic votes from Mission Valley, Serra Mesa, SDSU and the College Area.

If the District 7 contest drags out to the general election, a Democratic candidate would especially be favored, as low-propensity ethnic and young voters would come out to the polls in high numbers.

In this overall scenario of Emerald staying at her current residence, the result could very likely be only two Republican city councilmembers at City Hall in December 2012 – Kevin Faulconer (assuming he hasn’t won the mayor’s race) and Lorie Zapf.

If Emerald instead chooses to move to the new District 7, she has an even easier chance of winning reelection. A GOP candidate would then likely win an open District 5 election, but as only 3 of 9 votes on the new City Council, would be effectively irrelevant, with the Labor-Democratic Caucus having a veto-proof majority that would overpower any mayor’s authority.

The progressives have also labeled an Asian district as District 6 on their map, rather than District 9, the number which the Asian political community has used in its media blitz. This is an extremely important distinction — odd numbered districts have elections in presidential years (2012, 2016), and even numbered districts in gubernatorial years (2014, 2018). This move would serve Democratic objectives, by 1) by-passing on an immediate opportunity to increase the number of Republicans at City Hall in 2012 (the Asian seat leans GOP), 2) forcing Councilmember Zapf to move in order to qualify for reelection in 2014 (she is lumped in District 2 under the proposal), and 3) leaving the seat open for an Asian candidate in 2018.

Alternately, Zapf could file for re-election under the new District 2 in 2014, and leave District 6 open for a new candidate, but the likelihood of this is unclear – the new District 2 leans more left, and with Ocean Beach and Point Loma, the political orientation shifts away from her inland political base.

Again, the end result of this map is a demographically guaranteed 6-3 Democratic/labor city council majority, and even the possibility of 7-2 makeup.  Make no mistake — this map has nothing to do with empowering ethnic groups, or the disenfranchised.  This is a raw, political power grab by Democrats and labor.