06/10/2011 by Gina Baleria

Commission praised for transparency and encouraged to hear all voices

The first round of California’s new political maps have been unveiled, and many organizations involved in helping ensure the commission made it through legislative and other hurdles to become a reality are pleased with its painstaking efforts to be transparent and thorough, but concerned that not all communities are having their voices heard.

“It’s absolutely thrilling to see an idea on paper come to life in the way that the commission has been formed and has done its work,” said Alice Huffman (video), president of the California NAACP and national board member of the NAACP. “The transparency of the commission is absolutely what we wanted.”

“When you are doing something as important as redistricting in the state of California, the objective must be to be fair and conscious of the fact that it is a state where everyone has the right to be included,” Huffman said.

Michelle Romero (video), redistricting fellow at the Greenlining institute said the process has been strong so far, but there is room for improvement.

“We think the Citizens Redistricting Commission is doing a great job at listening to the community input they’re hearing at the public hearings,” Romero said. But, “it seems they’re weighing that input more than the written comments. It’s going to be really important for communities of color to show up at the hearings and tell the commission what they think.”

Eugene Lee (video) with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) echoed a desire to ensure that disenfranchised communities have their voices heard.

“The members of the redistricting commission and their staff have demonstrated a clear commitment to serving California,” Lee said. “It’s been great to see a lot of turnout at these hearings, but I do have a concern that some audience members have been telling the commission not to listen to the testimony of community members from under-served and under-represented communities.”

As for the first round of maps, Lee said it is a mixed bag. “There are some areas where we commend the commission for the districts they have drawn, and there are some areas where we think district lines need to be changed so that the federal voting rights act is fully complied with and district lines better respect communities of interest.”

Janis Hirohama (video), president of the League of Women Voters of California, said she has been “very pleased” with the process to this point.

“There’s been a tremendous outpouring of involvement and interest by ordinary Californians in the process,” said Hirohama. “The process has been open and transparent, and that’s really what we were hoping for when we supported redistricting reform.”

She also commended the commissioners for their work and encouraged the public to get engaged.

“It’s really important to have fair district lines to have fair and effective representation for our communities,” Hirohama said. “Californians who might not know what’s going on with redistricting really need to get engaged with the process, because determining who represents you is crucial to determining how your tax dollars are spent, what is going on with education, what is going on with healthcare.”

Astrid Garcia (video) with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) said this has been “truly historic.”

“It only comes around once every ten years, and if you don’t participate and help the commission define your communities, other folks are going to do it for you,” she said. “I think greater efforts can be done to increase participation of all of the diverse California communities.”

Kathay Feng (video) with Common Cause says the Commission has been very responsive, and its work could have far reaching impacts.

“California has become a model state that a lot of other states are looking at to figure out if this is the way that redistricting should be done in the future," said Feng. "A lot of people are watching to see whether this group of 14 citizens can really take the hearts and minds of all the testimony and create cogent maps. If they can do that, we might just see a lot of other states looking at the California model as something that the rest of the country should be adopting.”

The plans show new boundaries for California's 53 congressional districts, 40 state senate districts and 80 state assembly districts, as well as districts for the state Board of Equalization, which handles taxation issues.

The commission will now begin a new round of public hearings all over the state, which they will use to refine the maps. The final maps are due to be complete in August.

*Click on the name of each partner to see the video interview.

Categories: Selected Blog Posts, Citizens Redistricting Commission, Redistricting

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