The Politics of The L.A. County Redistricting Fight Explained -- With Venn Diagrams!

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors is just a week away from its big vote on redistricting.

Last week, we used pie charts to illustrate the underlying demographic reality of the issue, which is that white people are over-represented on the Board while Latinos are underrepresented -- and that to balance it out, the Board needs to add a Latino seat.

Today, we're going to explain why that won't happen. To get there, we have to turn from demographics to politics. Once again, we're chucking out the maps in favor of outside-the-box visual aids.

This is the current Board of Supervisors, as depicted in a Venn diagram:

Status quo plan

Status quo plan

Note that white board members are in the majority, and Democrats are in the majority. But there is only one white Democrat: Zev Yaroslavsky.

That puts him at the center of the action. He can form three-member majorities with the other white supervisors, or with the other Democratic supervisors. That gives him an inordinate amount of power.

Now let's see what happens in a couple years if one of the "status quo" maps is adopted. Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina are termed out in 2014. (And Yaroslavsky may leave earlier, if he's elected mayor.) So let's take a look at a hypothetical new board under a status quo plan.

Status quo plan

Status quo plan

That's Sheila Kuehl in the center. She's told people she intends to run for Yaroslavsky's seat, and she would be a strong candidate. For our purposes, we're assuming she wins. And that's Hilda Solis in the Gloria Molina seat. She's Secretary of Labor at the moment, but there's been talk of recruiting her to succeed Molina.

So, there are some new faces, but the balance of power remains the same. Kuehl is in the middle of the action.

Now watch what happens if the Mark Ridley-Thomas map is adopted. Ridley-Thomas -- along with much of the Latino activist community -- has proposed sacrificing Don Knabe to create a new Latino seat (which we're going to give to Alex Padilla).
Ridley-Thomas plan

Ridley-Thomas plan

You can see that the balance of power has shifted dramatically. Now there are four Democrats.

That's bad for Knabe -- he's gone. It's also bad for Michael Antonovich -- he's more isolated. But note that it also weakens Kuehl. With four Democrats, suddenly her vote isn't so crucial any more. (Little wonder, then, that Yaroslavsky is opposed to this.)

From a demographic standpoint, this plan makes sense. There are enough Latinos to warrant a new Latino seat, and the easiest way to draw it is to eliminate Knabe. But from a political standpoint, it makes no sense at all. You need four votes to approve a new map -- and three members are hurt by this plan. Politically, it's a non-starter.

That brings us to the Molina plan. In an effort to get to four votes, Molina proposes keeping Knabe, but sacrificing Yaroslavsky.

Molina plan

Molina plan

This is supposed to placate the Republicans, because it maintains the current partisan balance. But they don't like it at all.

Why not? We can speculate that it's because this would be a more partisan board. The three Democrats are likely to be more cohesive under this scenario than they are under the status quo. That would weaken both Republicans.

And Yaroslavsky also hates it for obvious reasons -- his seat is gone.

So what does this mean? It means that even though the demographic trends favor adding a Latino seat, the politics do not. Asking four out of five board members to agree on a new map is a recipe for maintaining the status quo.

If a new Latino seat is to be added, it likely will be by court order.

And thus concludes another exciting edition of Redistricting Without Maps (TM).