Will Latinos Force White Republican Don Knabe off L.A. County Board of Supes, via 'Racial Gerrymandering'?

Is Don Knabe is on the verge of getting swallowed by L.A. County's rising Latino tide?

The two minority members on the five-person L.A. County Board of Supervisors -- Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas, Latina and black, respectively -- are speaking up for the booming Latino voter base today (now at one-third of the entire county), supporting a plan that would make them the 62 percent majority in Supervisor Don Knabe's voting district.

This isn't welcome news for the very white, very Republican pol:

Knabe currently enjoys a well-to-do coastal constituency that includes Long Beach, the South Bay and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

But the proposed L.A. County puzzle pieces, which are being called the product of "racial gerrymandering" by Knabe and his white comrades on the board, would hand Knabe's shoo-in neighborhoods to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (or, rather, his successor, as his term will be up in 2014, when he'll be running for L.A. mayor), and put him at the mercy of a brown electorate.

The Latino-heavy plan favored by Molina and Ridley-Thomas. Knabe's district is No. 4, in blue.
The Latino-heavy plan favored by Molina and Ridley-Thomas. Knabe's district is No. 4, in blue.
Boundary Review Committee
The plan preferred by the white majority of the board, including Knabe. His district is in red.
The plan preferred by the white majority of the board, including Knabe. His district is in red.
Boundary Review Committee

The Los Angeles Times calls it "an epic redistricting battle... that could result in the first nonwhite board majority in modern history and further reduce the clout of Republicans in county politics."

Uh -- yes, please.

The minority-friendly plan was shot down 6-4 by the board-appointed Boundary Review Committee in July, but the public will be able to sound off at a board hearing today. And loudly, if we know our Latino activists in L.A.

Plus, Molina is threatening "that the county may be inviting another federal voting rights lawsuit if it chooses a status quo option," according to the Times:

"I hope the board is going to recognize the demographic changes in this county," said Gloria Molina, the county's first nonwhite and first person of Latino heritage to be elected supervisor in more than a century. Molina won her seat two decades ago after civil rights groups prevailed in a legal fight that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Latino representatives successfully argued that supervisors had drawn boundaries since the 1950s to protect white incumbents and dilute the Latino vote.

Cue agonized scream from SoCal conservatives and rightbloggers, who've been deeply pained by the legit Latino presence on the statewide Citizens Redistricting Commission.

There are also those more middle-of-the-road dissenters, who feel it is polarizing to assume Latino Democrats only want to elect Latino Democrats to office, instead of the candidate they see most fit. But the reality is, as Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt explains to the Times: "Research shows that Latinos generally coalesce around a candidate and other groups often vote to defeat that candidate, he said. That is particularly pronounced in lower-profile local elections, he said."

We've contacted Knabe spokeswoman Cheryl Burnett for comment. But here's part of Knabe's bloggin' plea to wealthy supporters:

"Let me be very clear about this: Los Angeles County is the most racially diverse County in the nation, and I am proud to represent a district that currently has a majority Latino population, as well as Asians, Whites, African-Americans and several other minority populations. In fact, under the A2 Plan I support, the Latino population would grow to over 42% of our residents. I'm also proud of all that we have been able to accomplish for the various geographies and demographics that make up our district."

Update: Burnett, speaking for Knabe, says the supervisor feels Molina's favored plan would "split certain communities" within his district and "displace" over 3.5 million people overall. This could be alienating, she explains, in terms of both the positioning of supervisors' offices themselves (residents "know where to go to get things done") and the sense of unity within current districts.

She also wants to make one thing clear: Knabe's area of jurisdiction stretches "from Marina Del Rey down to Long Beach, and out to Diamond Bar... including Paramount and Hawaiian Gardens." So it's not just wealthy white folks he's got under his thumb.

Right. Though Burnett assures us Knabe is loved by all his constituents, we'd be interested to see the disparity in support he received from Palos Verdes Peninsula and Paramount.


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