Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just How "Nonpartisan" Is Redistricting Now?

The new redistricting panel held its first hearing... While Secretary of State Ross Miller and other interested parties are still trying to get the state Supreme Court to take charge. At stake in yesterday's hearing, the first in what will be a series of statewide hearings, was what to do regarding the state's growing Latino population.

Monday’s hearing was the first of two public hearings held by the court masters before they submit maps for Nevada’s new political districts to Carson City District Judge James Russell later this month.

Under the new [Democratic] proposal Nevada’s new 4th Congressional District would combine the Hispanic-heavy urban core of Las Vegas with the state’s southernmost rural counties — a district that likely would favor Kihuen, who, if elected, would be Nevada’s first Hispanic in Congress.

In previous maps, Democrats proposed making the 3rd Congressional District the so-called “hybrid district” that would combine parts of Las Vegas with the rural counties.

Democrats say the new proposal would respect CD3’s tradition of being a Clark County-only district. But it would also tilt the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., more Democratic, which would favor Oceguera’s candidacy.

The 1st Congressional District would include many of the black neighborhoods that would form Horsford’s base. Under the new proposal, U.S. Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, could face a primary against Horsford, who hasn’t yet made his expected bid for Congress official, instead of Oceguera.

In this new Democratic plan, Oceguera, Horsford, and Kihuen all get the districts they want... But Dina Titus would be left in the cold and forced to decide which of the other Dems to challenge in a primary.

Meanwhile, Republicans are looking at ways to subtly screw with minority communities by trying to pack them into as few districts as possible.

The fight over minority representation has largely become a proxy battle as the political parties aim for their more fundamental goal of controlling the district maps. On the congressional level, Democrats want three of the four districts. Republicans want the split to be two and two.

If Republicans succeed in persuading the court to draw majority Hispanic districts, they succeed in concentrating a significant population of Democratic voters in a small number of districts.

On the other hand, Democrats win more political influence by disbursing Hispanic voters across many districts.

For all the Republicans' talk of "championing Hispanic representation", all they really care about is maintaining a stronghold on at least two Congressional Districts and enough Legislature districts to keep a chance of recapturing the majority in Carson City. After all, why hasn't Joe Heck bothered to hold a town hall in Latino dominant northeast corner of his district? Why does Dean Heller continue to champion xenophobic anti-immigrant legislation? And why do Republican state legislators keep introducing more bills to stop Latinos from showing up at the polls, shut down schools in their communities, and turn their communities into de facto police states? Why do they only "care so much" about Latinos when redistricting comes up and they see a chance to concentrate Latino influence into as few seats as possible?

And why are leaders in both parties trying to pick winners and losers in each district? Why not just let we the people decide who we want to represent us?

Despite the redistricting case going to court, it looks like bare knuckle partisan politics may still be a major force in this case. Perhaps SoS Miller is right that Judge Russell screwed up on election law yet again. (Remember that he's also the judge who nixed the "ballot royale" in the CD 2 special election before the media found his close ties to Mark Amodei.) And perhaps we need to (again) look to our next door neighbors for inspiration. California's new independent redistricting commission may or may not be the perfect fit for us, but at this point it's at least worth a closer look... And I suspect it may ultimately be shown as far superior to the hot mess we're stuck with now.

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