Keep diversity in the district

Karen Bass (pictured), Judy Chu and Joe Coto are representing the Legislative Black Caucus, the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus and the Latino Caucus, respectively

The U.S. Census Bureau notes that California is one of the few “majority-minority” states in the nation—meaning California’s various minority populations constitute a majority. Our Legislature mirrors that diversity; the National Conference of State Legislatures calls the Assembly the most diverse legislature in the nation. Over the past three decades, representation of women and members of racial minorities has improved in the Assembly, in the state Senate and among our congressional delegation.

Unfortunately, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s redistricting plan puts California’s diversity gains at risk. It fails to ensure fair representation of California’s diverse population, and it invites Voting Rights Act lawsuits that even Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson believes could delay implementation of redistricting until 2012.

The Republican redistricting plan calls for the use of a panel of retired judges to draw new district lines. While California’s judiciary is more diverse than ever, it is still far from reflective of the state’s population.

According to the latest data from the California Judicial Council, nearly 90 percent of retired judges are male. A very small number of judges have Spanish or Asian surnames. African-Americans also are underrepresented in California courts: Only 4 percent of Superior Court judges and just 6.5 percent of municipal judges are African-American.

How can such a limited pool be expected to effectively represent the interests, experiences and needs of California’s population?

The governor’s plan also calls for mid-decade redistricting without using accurate state population data. Since the last census, California’s population has grown by more than 2.6 million people, most of whom are minorities. Drawing new district boundaries would not account for these new Californians.

Then there’s the question of regional representation. Communities in different parts of the state have their own—often divergent—interests. There is no guarantee that any member of the commission would have the interests of urban areas in mind. This would have a devastating effect on minorities.

The governor’s power grab is a threat to our diversity and to the ability of our leaders to effectively represent the diverse nature of California’s citizens. Any redistricting effort should not hinder the gains we are making to elect legislators reflective of our state’s population.