The L.A. County Redistricting Battle Explained -- Without Maps!

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Wed, Sep 14, 2011 at 8:25 AM

click to enlarge Redistricting-- without the maps!
  • Redistricting-- without the maps!
The redistricting battle at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is the ultimate arcane, inside-baseball political fight. From a distance, all you can see is a bunch of people squabbling over some maps.

So let's try to simplify it a little bit. And the first thing we need to do is forget about the maps. The maps aren't helping.

Instead, we need some outside-the-box visual aids.

First, let's look at a good, old-fashioned pie chart. This will cut right to the heart of the matter.

click to enlarge The Ridley-Thomas plan
  • The Ridley-Thomas plan

On the left is the racial breakdown of the five-member Board of Supervisors. On the right is the racial breakdown of the county. Notice anything?

White people have it pretty good! They have 60% of the board, but only 39% of the voters. Latinos, meanwhile, have 33% of the voters and only 20% of the seats. So the white folks have too many seats -- and Latinos not enough.

Enter the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, whose job it is to care about stuff like this. MALDEF says it's time to add another Latino seat. That would make the pie chart look like this: 

click to enlarge The Ridley-Thomas plan
  • The Ridley-Thomas plan

That's a lot closer. But how do you get there? You have to eliminate a white seat. And this is where it gets tricky.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was the first to step into the fray. Rather than show his map, it might be easier to use a crude Photoshop cartoon. Here, then, is the Ridley-Thomas plan:

click to enlarge The Ridley-Thomas plan
  • The Ridley-Thomas plan
OK, so you can see Ridley-Thomas on the left there with the club...

.... and he's whacking Supervisor Don Knabe across the head.

So that's the Ridley-Thomas plan.

Now, that generated all sorts of trouble. It turns out that people like Don Knabe. And they don't want to see him get whacked across the head -- not even in the name of adding a Latino seat.

So we're back to square one.

Then Supervisor Gloria Molina gave it a try, submitting her own map. And again, let's not look at the map. Let's look at a cartoon representation of the Molina map:

click to enlarge The Molina plan
  • The Molina plan
That's Gloria Molina on the left there....

... and she's whacking Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky across the head.

That's the Molina plan.

As you may imagine, Yaroslavsky also did not appreciate being whacked across the head.

His reaction was basically: "Hey, don't we live in a harmonious, post-racial America? Didn't we elect Antonio Villaraigosa and Barack Obama? Why do we need to still be whacking each other across the head?"

Whether you agree with that perspective or not, it looks like Yaroslavsky has the votes to preserve all three white seats. The Board will vote on this on Sept. 27. The most likely outcome is that Ridley-Thomas will agree to some slight modification of the status quo -- providing the fourth vote needed for approval.

But that may not be the end of it. MALDEF may well file a lawsuit, arguing that the status quo is out of whack and violates the Voting Rights Act.

What seems clear enough is that Latinos will get a second seat at some point -- if not now then certainly in 10 years. Want proof? Check out what happens when you compare the Board's current racial composition to the county's total population -- including children and non-citizens.

click to enlarge CountyRedistrictingpiechart.jpg
Figure that in 10 years most of those children will be of voting age, and you can see that there won't be three white seats on the Board forever.

Redistricting without maps: It can be done!

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