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How much will California redistricting shift political power?

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Redistricting won’t change that meets this week to cull through public comment on its preliminary maps and consider changes.

And how it draws the final districts will nonetheless impact partisan dynamics — including whether Democrats are able to keep the supermajority in the Legislature they won in 2018 and retained in 2020. 

Heading into the 2022 elections, Democrats have a stranglehold on power in 59 of 80 seats in the state Assembly and 31 of 40 in the state Senate, plus 42 of 53 in the U.S. House.

While slightly more competitive, the preliminary districts aren’t likely to change those numbers much, according to one study. Democrats are likely to keep 40 of 52 House seats, 62 Assembly seats and 31 Senate seats, says the Public Policy Institute of California analysis.    

But those party breakdowns could shift in the final districts that the commission will be working on the next several weeks before adopting them just before Christmas.

Fredy Ceja, communications director for the commission, said that when seeking public comment, it didn’t ask for political affiliation. And he noted that the state constitution says that “districts may not be drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against an incumbent, political candidate, or political party.” 

State Senate and Assembly 

Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature, and, under the draft maps, that doesn’t appear likely to change.

According to the PPIC analysis, which uses data from the nonpartisan PlanScore site, 14 Assembly seats and 11 Senate seats are likely to change party control at least once in the next decade — a slight increase from 12 and 9 with the current districts. 

The commission — which is discussing Assembly maps this week and state Senate districts the week of Dec. 14  — does not take into account the current district lines, or where incumbents live. That’s why the draft maps place as many as 29 state Assembly members and 14 state senators in a district with another incumbent.  

Legislators would have to move to another district to avoid running against a fellow lawmaker, though enforcement of the law has been weakened. The final lines will also determine who can challenge incumbents and can run for open seats

One factor that is already influencing the potential partisan breakdown: legislators who are leaving voluntarily. Democratic Assemblymember Ed Chau of Monterey Park in California (Surfing), but the continental U.S., according to redistricting expert Paul Mitchell

Also, Democratic Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin of San Mateo County and Rudy Salas of Bakersfield and state Sen. Sydney Kamlager of Los Angeles are all eyeing U.S. House seats. Assemblymember Marc Levine of Marin County is running for insurance commissioner and fellow Democratic Assemblymember Richard Bloom of Santa Monica is running for Democrat, announced today he’s stepping down Dec. 31 to seek a transportation job.

Even with some departures, however, Republicans have no realistic hope of winning a majority in the Legislature. But getting rid of the Democratic two-thirds supermajority — which allows Democrats to pass tax increases or put constitutional amendments on the ballot without any Republican votes — is conceivably within reach. 

If Republicans were able to flip at least seven seats in the Assembly and five in the state Senate, they would have more influence over taxes and policy choices.

Democratic leaders shied away from commenting on the potential impact of the new districts while the commission is still at work.

“In keeping with the distinct roles established by voters for the Legislature and the Citizens Redistricting Commission, we will not be able to provide comment on the draft maps,” state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of U.S. House

The competition and the stakes for Republicans only need to flip five seats in 2022 to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. And they’re well on their way, just from the GOP-controlled redistricting already completed, according to analyses of new congressional districts by Politico and FiveThirtyEight.

That’s not by accident: In most other states, redistricting is done by state legislatures, most of which are under Republican control. That includes states that gained congressional seats after the 2020 Census, including North Carolina and Texas. (lost a seat for the first time ever, complicating the redistricting process.)

In states where legislators drew the lines, nearly 90% of congressional races over the last decade were easy wins for one party or the other, Politico reports.

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of noted that while the process has been “disruptive,” the alternative as seen in other states is a lot more gerrymandering and less competition.

more on redistricting

A California redistricting illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

California redistricting: Which incumbents are in tough spots?

The state’s redistricting commission isn’t supposed to consider where current elected officials live. And the preliminary maps put some House members and state legislators into less politically friendly districts, or in the same district as another incumbent.