California Redistricting Commissioner Discusses Finalized Maps, Part 2
California redistricting commissioner Ray Kennedy spoke with KVCR's Jonathan Linden to discuss the final redrawn maps that were approved at the end of December.
Jonathan Linden: You're listening to 91.9 KVCR News, and I'm Jonathan Linden. Here's part two of my conversation with California Redistricting Commissioner Ray Kennedy. I started this portion of the interview by asking him more about Congressional District 41, which I categorized as Ken Calvert's. District 41 will go from Corona to the Coachella Valley and includes the cities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert. I asked him if there was a specific reason the district had to stretch all the way to the desert.
Ray Kennedy: Yeah, first of all, I don't accept the characterization of it as Ken Calvert's district. It is the 41st district; if Ken Calvert wins an election in the 41st District, then we might be able to talk about it being Ken Calvert's district right now. To me, it's the 41st District. You know, it looks the way it does in large measure because we have Voting Rights Act obligations, you know, around it. And there were certain things that we were able to consider. You know, we looked at the possibility of crossing the San Bernardino County line, decided we were, you know, best off not crossing the San Bernardino County line. You know, small things like that. But it was largely shaped by Voting Rights Act obligations in surrounding areas.
Jonathan Linden: Okay. And just a few days ago, I spoke with state senator Connie Leyva, who lives in Chino. The redistricting will be putting her in with another state senator. And that definitely played into her comment that I'm about to read to you. But she made comments to me about how not anyone is happy with how the lines were drawn and how it fundamentally changed the Inland Empire and not in a good way. Do you have any response to that? She was definitely voicing concerns about how these new draw lines were going to be affecting Inland Empire communities.
Ray Kennedy: Well, again, we listen to the community, you know, officeholders were free to call in or write in if they wanted to, but I don't know that many did, at least not that we were, you know, explicitly aware of some. Some may have called in or had their staff call in who never gave their names or their affiliations. But we were listening to the people, not the politicians. And that's part of the purpose of having a citizens redistricting commission is to take it out of the hands of the politicians and listen to the people, and to the communities. You know, if you refer to I.E. United their response to the maps, you know, they are a community-based group bringing together communities and people from all over the Inland Empire. They're pretty happy with the maps. You know, none of us are saying that these maps are perfect. I don't think it is possible to come up with a perfect map. But, you know, listen to people other than the politicians, and you hear a different story.
Jonathan Linden: And I had another question about another Senate district. It was Senate District 32. It will cover parts of Chino Hills, Yorba Linda, go down to Murrieta. You know, some of those areas were grouped (together) before, but it will go down to about 20 miles from the Mexican border and include the little town of Julian. Do you know the reasoning behind that and how it ended up being such a long district?
Ray Kennedy: You know, again, in a state like California where you have significant areas that have very little population, and then we have to look at where to put those areas that aren't, you know, heavily populated. One of the things that we looked at in this is there are ties between the Anza area and the Borrego Springs area. And so we looked at, you know, well, maybe this is a place where we can respect the ties between the Anza and Borrego. And, you know, some of the other areas, it just isn't that much population. And again, you know, we have to get the population numbers within certain parameters. For state offices, the parameters are a little more forgiving than they are for congressional districts. But still, we have parameters in which we have to operate. And so, you know, we end up with district. That may look strange to people, but we did our best to represent what we perceived as communities in the best way possible. Another element of this in California, and this is a debate that has emerged from Los Angeles County's redistricting. We've got 40 million people, and when you have only 40 state Senate districts, each state Senate district ends up representing about a million people. And it's not always easy to get a tightly defined community, you know, to fill out an entire Senate district. It's certainly easier in places like L.A. County that are densely populated, but we get out to less densely populated areas and cobbling together communities that total nearly a million people, and that makes some sort of sense together and starts to get a bit tricky.
Jonathan Linden: You're in Morongo Valley in the desert region, but kind of the only commissioner that kind of has close ties to the Inland Empire, in a sense. Were you trying to advocate for the Inland Empire and trying to keep those kinds of cities and communities together throughout this process?
Ray Kennedy: Well, you know, I did advocate for keeping the Coachella Valley as united as possible. It ended up not being entirely possible. But, you know, I did advocate for that. I wanted to as much as possible respect that Riverside/San Diego County line. And again, we ended upbringing in the Borrego Springs area because of close ties with Anza. But you know, we didn't in the Senate map, we didn't cross the county line down the 15. So we cut it off at Temecula. We certainly heard from folks into that Temecula. I mean, in a lot of these cases, we heard people from different perspectives. There were people, maybe in San Diego County, who wanted Temecula in a San Diego County-based district, maybe for reasons of favoring a particular candidate or incumbent. But I advocated for drawing that line at the Riverside/San Diego County line as much as possible. And again, there were occasionally, Voting Rights Act obligations that we saw that we had that determine the shape, if not of a specific district, at least directly, at least, you know, of neighboring districts, which in the end meant that the district that we did have a little more flexibility on, we didn't have that much flexibility on.
Jonathan Linden: And can you tell listeners a little bit more about what you mean by Voting Rights Act obligations?
Ray Kennedy: Voting Rights Act, basically these days, there have been changes over the years, but the Voting Rights Act says that where a minority group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district, we need to look further into that potential district to see if the minority group is politically cohesive, that majority voters vote sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat the minorities preferred candidate. If all three of those preconditions are met, then we need to draw a district that is majority-minority. And we took that very seriously throughout the process that that did determine a lot of. It was very significant in what we were doing, particularly in Southern California, where the Latino population has grown quite significantly. And we had quite a few areas where we had a Latino majority that was sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district. And so, we ended up needing to draw those districts.
Jonathan Linden: Alright, and I just have one more question about a specific district. It was Congressional District 28, which actually is very similar to what is currently Congressional District 27. But what it does is touch parts of East L.A., go up to Pasadena, Altadena. It kind of makes an Upside-Down U in the Angeles National Forest and then covers parts of Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, and Claremont. What kind of leads there to be these kind of weird looking districts where there's actually another district, congressional district 31, that's kind of going slicing in between that district?
Ray Kennedy: Yeah. That area is in the Angeles National Forest, and it doesn't have people in it. But we were getting a lot of input from community groups and an environmental group or two saying we really want the population in District 31 to have a voice in how the Angeles National Forest is governed. And so that's why that portion of 31 extends up into what is now what will be 28.
Jonathan Linden: And does any consideration go into where current representatives are living at all? Do you guys have a map of where (they live)?
Ray Kennedy: No. In fact, we are precluded from considering that, that is part of the language in the state constitution that we are not allowed to take current residence of any current incumbent or potential candidate into consideration when we're drawing these maps. We didn't have that data. We weren't interested in that data. And I think that shows when you see there are a number of places where two sometimes three incumbents end up living in the same district. We didn't know, we weren't supposed to know, and we certainly weren't supposed to care about that.
Jonathan Linden: Alright. And Ray, thank you again for taking some time to speak to me. Is there anything else you would like to share with listeners today?
Ray Kennedy: This was a difficult process for everyone. It's really tough. I have a lot more respect for anyone, any citizens redistricting commission doing this in the future. It is quite the task, particularly in a state as large and complex as California. But as I said, we did our best to, first of all, educate Californians about redistricting and the importance of redistricting (and) how to get involved in the process. Then we did our best to listen to people telling us what they wanted in their representation. And thirdly, did our best to draw maps that we felt made sense. We know they're not perfect, but we do believe that they will provide good representation for California over the next ten years, and we'll be working to develop some proposals that we believe will make the process easier for the 2030 Commission.
Jonathan Linden: Alright, Ray, thank you again for taking some time to speak with me today. I really do appreciate it.
Ray Kennedy: You're certainly welcome. Have a good day.