By Steven Greenhut | CalWatchdog
SACRAMENTO — Over the summer, Calwatchdog published a series of articles documenting the way that the political Left exploited the redistricting process to assure strong gains for the Democratic Party. The report included an exclusive interview with a redistricting commission member who alleged partisan behavior by his supposedly non-partisan commission colleagues, but the series didn’t cause much attention in the media, the Capitol or among the public. Apparently, no one was surprised that a commission formed with the best of intentions — i.e., taking backroom political deal-making out of the process by which political lines were drawn — was cynically manipulated to create a partisan advantage.
But the story is getting renewed life now that the left-leaning ProPublica investigative journalism Web site published a new report called “How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.” If you weren’t cynical about the state of California’s political system before reading it, you will be now. It reveals several lessons for California political observers, ranging from the ruthlessness of the state’s powerful Democratic Party, to the utter incompetence of the state’s fading Republican Party. It also reminds us that even the best-intentioned good-government reforms may make matters worse if proponents of reform don’t grapple with political reality.
Calwatchdog’s series by reporter John Hrabe focused on the deep partisan interests of one of the commission’s supposedly non-partisan members, Gabino Aguirre, and the successful way he abused the public trust to secure the desired political results. Hrabe quoted political observer Tony Quinn:
Dante condemned those who betray a public trust to the hottest place in hell. My candidate for Dante’ inferno this week is State Auditor Elaine Howle, who created the poll of candidates that formed the Citizens Redistricting Commission, now thankfully in its final weeks of existence…. Commissioner Gabino Aguirre managed to obtain a Senate district for his friend, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams, in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Aguirre made a campaign contribution to Williams after he was in the running for membership on the commission, and then helped craft the new Williams district without disclosing his contribution to anyone. He also helped draw the district intended to end the career of GOP Sen. Tony Strickland. Aguirre hosted a fund raiser in 2008 for the candidate running against Strickland’s wife, the then Ventura Assembly member. These are the kind of people Howle thought were “impartial,” the primary criterion for a commissioner.
In my column about the Left’s redistricting victory, I quote former Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel, who said: “The Democrats knew what they were doing, and Republicans were asleep at the switch.” People shrugged or dismissed our allegations as the work of conservatives. But now ProPublica came up with equally damning conclusions based on a look at email correspondence, internal memos, interviews with participants and an analysis of the final district maps.