Some 30,000 Orange County residents currently represented in Washington, D.C. by Democrat Katie Porter will very likely have a different Congress member by the end of the year.
But which residents, exactly how many, and who their new representative will be is for now all fodder for speculation, with the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries, or redistricting, just getting underway.
What’s not speculative is that any changes to local district lines will shift political winds in ways that will surely help or hinder anyone eyeing one of the seven congressional seats that touch Orange County.
“These seats are and will remain competitive, so a shift of 10,000 people this way or that way can be a big opportunity one way or the other for either political party,” said Scott Spitzer, political science professor at Cal State Fullerton. “That means you’re going to get some strong challengers for all of these seats and some significant amounts of money coming in for 2022.”
The California Citizens Redistricting commission is in the early stages of redistricting seats that represent voters in the U.S. House of Representatives along with the California State Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization. This process happens by law every 10 years, after the federal government publishes updated census information, to ensure districts are evenly populated. It’s been delayed this cycle by the coronavirus pandemic, but commissioners still hope to release new maps later this year.
Porter’s narrowly blue 45th District currently stretches from Anaheim Hills south to Mission Viejo and from Silverado Canyon west to Irvine, including portions of Lake Forest, Tustin, Villa Park and Rancho Santa Margarita. That district is the only one in or touching Orange County that’s expected to be over-populated when compared to other California districts, with some 31,461 more people (about 4.1%) than the average congressional district, according to estimates compiled by City University of New York (CUNY) based on 2019 population data.
That means CA-45 will likely need to shrink a little as political lines are redrawn to make sure congressional districts have about the same number of people.
Asked about that prospect, Porter said it won’t change how she does her job. She also encouraged residents to make their voices heard now, with an online mapping tool live and public comments open, since the redistricting commission relies on community engagement to understand how to draw lines.
The other six congressional districts that touch Orange County are expected to be under-populated, according to CUNY’s Redistricting & You mapping tool. That means those six districts probably will get an influx of new voters when redistricting is complete, though true population counts won’t be known until this fall, when the Census Bureau is expected to release block-by-block data from the 2020 count.
Based on current lines and population estimates, some of Porter’s constituents could go to GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, if, say, the redistricting commission shifts at least a portion of Mission Viejo to Steel’s coastal 48th District. CA-48 is projected to be 5.5% below average district population, according to CUNY.
That change could help both Porter, of Irvine, and Steel, of Seal Beach, during the 2022 election, since Republicans have a 7-point advantage in voter registration in Mission Viejo. It wouldn’t be good news for Democrat Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach, who won the CA-48 seat in 2018, lost to Steel by 8,376 votes in 2020 and is challenging her again next year. But Spitzer said he thinks any change to CA-48 is likely to dilute it as a Republican stronghold, since it includes some of the reddest portions of Orange County.
The southern portion of Porter’s 45th district also could go to Democratic Rep. Mike Levin’s narrowly blue 49th District, which includes southern Orange County and northern San Diego County. If that happens, it would favor Republicans Brian Maryott, a former San Juan Capistrano council member who is challenging Levin for a third time in 2022, or Oceanside City Councilman Christopher Rodriguez, who is rumored to be considering a CA-49 run. But Levin’s district also isn’t projected to be as under-populated as Steel’s district, which could skew the odds of Steel getting some of Porter’s constituents.
In another scenario, Porter could lose her portion of Tustin. The city already is split between two congressional districts, with half of Tustin now represented by Democrat Lou Correa of Anaheim in the safely blue 46th District. Since redistricting is supposed to keep cities together whenever possible, Spitzer believes such a change would make sense. That change could ding Porter a bit, since Tustin does skew blue, generally, though the eastern portion of the city that sits in her district is more likely to lean red.
A final option would be for Porter to lose, say, Anaheim Hills to either Correa or to Republican Rep. Young Kim’s narrowly blue 39th District. The 39th was estimated in 2019 to be 5.6% under populated, so it needs to grow. And it already includes northeast Orange County, such as Yorba Linda, along with portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.
That change would help Porter and Kim, of La Habra, in 2022, since Anaheim Hills votes reliably red.
It’s tough to foresee a change that would make Porter’s district lean more Republican, Spitzer said. But if it does, he expects to see a stronger GOP challenger than any Porter faced in the 2020 primary.
Former and aspiring politicians are no doubt sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see how such shifts shake out before they decide whether to challenge incumbents next year — particularly in purple districts. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already announced it’s targeting CA-39 and CA-48 in hopes of taking those seats back in 2022, while the National Republican Campaign Committee is focused on CA-45 and CA-49.
Kim, for example, is so far only facing a serious challenge from Democrat Jay Chen of Hacienda Heights. Former CA-39 Rep. Gil Cisneros appears out of the 2022 race after getting a Biden administration appointment as Undersecretary of Personnel and Readiness in the Department of Defense. But if Kim’s underpopulated district grows to include more of left-leaning Los Angeles County, Spitzer predicts another major Democratic contender could jump in the race.
The redistricting commission can’t consider partisan politics when drawing new lines, which means voter registration or affiliation or residence of the incumbent can’t be a factor. Congress members don’t have to live in the districts they represent, so incumbents could continue to represent those areas even if their homes are drawn out of the districts. But that presents a challenge for politicians come election time, since residents tend to prefer that representatives live locally.
Along with balancing population, the state commission does have to keep districts contiguous and compact. They also have to consider factors such as keeping “communities of interest” together, which makes it unlikely that, say, the portion of Porter’s district around UC Irvine would be split up.
The federal Voting Rights Act also requires that lines be drawn in a way that protects districts with high percentages of minority voters. In the last election cycle, four districts that touch Orange County were protected as “majority minority” districts, with high percentages of Latino or Asian American voters (or both) in the 38th, 39th, 46th and 47th districts.
That doesn’t mean those district boundaries can’t be changed. But new maps have to account for other factors, such as keeping a city together, and be drawn in a way that keeps enough minority voters in those districts that they maintain a voice.
“Ten years is a long time,” said Fullerton College political science professor Jodi Balma, referencing the once-a-decade nature of redistricting. “The demographics have changed, which is why we need to redraw the districts.”
Four of Orange County’s congressional districts include portions of at least one other county. That’s not ideal, Balma noted, since it makes it tougher for representatives at all levels of government to partner together.
Fixing those cross-county splits offers some motivation to make changes to the 38th, 39th, 47th and 49th districts, such as moving the sliver of northern Orange County that it’s in CA-38 into CA-39 or CA-47 or moving Chino Hills from CA-39 to CA-35.
Another factor that could re-shape Orange County districts is population changes that need to happen in neighboring counties.
GOP Rep. Ken Calvert’s 42nd District in adjacent Riverside County, for example, is the most over-populated in all of California, per the CUNY map, with 10.6% more residents than the average district. But the most likely fix there will be to shift some of the southern portion of CA-42 to CA-50 or to shift an eastern slice of Calvert’s district to neighboring CA-36. Either move might make Calvert’s district lean a bit further left, since both areas have significant GOP voters.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County districts are among the most under-populated in the state, which means some adjacent Orange County districts could grow to include more of LA County. That would be good news for Democrats, since those areas tend to lean blue. But any major shifts there could threaten the “safe” seats held by Reps. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier.
One wild card in all of these predictions is that California is expected to lose one or even two congressional seats this year, a first in the history of a state that only now is growing at a slower rate than some neighboring states. There’s a solid possibility that several under-populated districts in LA County districts could be merged. That could trigger unexpected changes to congressional districts throughout the state.
We should find out whether California will keep its 53 House seats on April 30, when the Census Bureau releases apportionment numbers from the 2020 census.
While the prospect of another wild election season made even wilder by redistricting may be overwhelming, Balma said it’s really a sign that the process is working to prevent politicians and parties from locking down seats.
“What voters want, even if they don’t know it, is competitive elections,” Balma said. “Not just because they get to vote but because candidates pay more attention to you when it’s competitive.”
Source: Orange County Register