- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2011

The last time California redrew its congressional districts, Republicans and Democrats cut a deal to preserve all the incumbents, essentially erasing the country’s biggest electoral fishing ground from the map in 2002.

But voters weren’t amused. In the intervening years, they established a citizens commission to redraw the lines. In the process, they declared open season on incumbents and set up what political analysts say could be a dozen races to watch next year.

Across the state line in Arizona, though, a citizens commission has had a much colder reception: Gov. Jan Brewer last week moved to impeach the commission chairwoman, citing “gross misconduct.” Democrats said the commission’s only offense was drawing lines that gave their party a chance to win four of the state’s nine congressional districts.

With this past Sunday marking a year to go until the 2012 elections, the redistricting process is just about completed. Combined with the unsettled nature of politics, it suggests that dozens of seats could be in play across the country.

“There is just more political unrest in the country this year compared with 2001,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “In 2001, we had just been through Sept. 11, there was a rare sense of national unity, and that is in stark contrast to the climate in the country today: bitter partisanship and two sharply divided parties and ideologies.”

That bitterness is most apparent in Arizona, where the GOP-controlled state Senate accepted Mrs. Brewer’s impeachment call and removed the commission chairwoman.

The state’s congressional delegation has five Republicans and three Democrats, and Arizona is gaining one more House seat. Republicans say that given the political leanings, the final map should split 6-3 in favor of the GOP, but they think the map that the commission drew would have resulted in a 5-4 map.

Michael McDonald, a redistricting analyst and professor at George Mason University, said the GOP’s fears are probably overstated. He said the map creates three competitive districts, and Republicans are assuming Democrats would win all of them - something Mr. McDonald said is unlikely in the current political climate.

“They’re just so afraid of losing a seat. It tells you just how high the stakes are in Congress, that they’re willing to take these extraordinary steps to impeach the chairman of the commission,” he said.

Mr. McDonald, who advised Arizona’s commission in 2001, said the GOP is essentially “working the refs” similar to the way Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, did a decade ago, the first time the commission was in effect.

This is the first year for California’s commission, and it produced a vastly different map from what the politicians drew up in 2001, which essentially preserved nearly every incumbent district and deleted just one Republican district.

“I thought it was a hell of a deal,” said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who ran Republicans’ congressional campaign committee at the time.

This time, the map foreshadows some major tangles, including a number of primaries: longtime Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman and Brad Sherman have been drawn into the same district in the San Fernando Valley, while north of them, Republican Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon and Elton Gallegly have ended up in the same seat.

The Cook Political Report rates six of the 20 seats as pure tossups headed into next year’s elections. That means California, which accounts for just 12 percent of the country’s congressional seats, has 30 percent of the tossup races.

Not everyone agrees with that read. The Rothenberg Political Report rates just three seats as tossups - but that’s still a major leap over last time.

Story Continues →