December 15, 2000
By Julio C. Calderón
When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2000, we will not watch the new year unfold in celebrations starting in the South Pacific. I will not be stationed at the California Office of Emergency Services. The powers of our nation and state will not be waiting for the disconnection of the world's computer systems; the sudden release of missles; or the collapse of world markets.
In California, the powerful have already gethered their computer geeks and numbers crunchers in preparations to cut and slice political power for the first decade of the new century. While we are all still waiting for our next president, the Democratic Party in California is on the verge of total political power in the state. The Republicans, on the other hand, are powerless to affect the coming changes to Congressional, Assembly and Senate districts.
The Democrats control the Governor's Office. They are the majority of the California Congressional delegation. They control the State Assembly and State Senate, they therefore, control the reapportionment of the state's district to conform to the population census 2000. At stake is the shaping of California's political, social, economic and educational agenda for the next ten years.
The Republican party's problems started with the 1996 elections. They have consistently lost seats in the Assembly and State Senate with each election year. As Republican numbers dwindled, so have the Latino numbers increased in both houses and the office of the Lt. Governor. The increase of Latino political fortunes came as the result of term limits and a 1990 reapportionment done by the California Supreme Court. Latinos have never increased their numbers in the Legislature when Democrats controlled the process.
This next year's reapportionment is going to be different Democrats are in control once more. How Latinos will fare the next ten years will depend on how they use the power gained the last six years. This is a completely different group of Latino and Latina Legislators from those of 1981's reapportionment, the last time Deomcrats controlled the process.
The Latino delegation has mature leadership in State Senator Richard Polanco. They are less dependent upon traditional political powers for their reelections. They have also learned the power of grabbing their share of mother's milk of politics money. They are also in control of many of the union locals in Los Angeles County, and have established strong ties with the burgeoning Latino business communities. This group of Latino and Latina elected officials are better prepared to fight their own party leaders to protect their districts from the more powerful party interests.
What is at stake here isn't so much a Latino fight for what is a fair representation for the community. What is at stake has broader political implications. What is at stake is one party's complete control of government. Republicans are tittering on the abyss of total insignificance in California's political scene.
As the dust and fog has lifted and we see clearly the make-up of our Legislature, the picture for Republicans in bleak, at best. The State Senate is one vote short of a two-thirds majority. The State Assembly is only four votes from the super majority. Republicans had some power as a minority party on legislation requiring a two-thirds vote. If a house or both gains the two-thirds advantage, Republicans will have that trump card taken away.
The reapportionment process, as written, is one that ensures that the populations of the states are fairly represented Legislative and Congressional houses. However, in reality, in the realm of the unwritten, the exercise is for partisan political power. This is when what is right or wrong or fair representation, take a backseat to raw political power.
The constitution separates political powers. It is the checks and balances preventing total power over the states politics. The two legislative houses can not over power the other, and they in turn prevent a governor from total rule over the state. In essence, the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly and the State Senate Pro-tem have equal powers. Or so the theory goes and this is why our republic has with-stood the test of time.
Shortly after his inauguration Governor Gray Davis threw down a gauntlet, letting the leadership of both houses know that he was in control. He told them, in no uncertain term, that their job was to implement his vision, not to tell him where they believed the state should go. He let them know that he does not believe in sharing the power over our great state. Governor Davis had misinterpreted the intent of the constitution. He also ignored future events that could cause his vision to blur.
Senate Pro-tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) can redesign district with more intricacy than a spider weaving webs. He also understands the constitutional powers as divided by the constitution. He also understands that the two-thirds majority gives his party powers never before held by any political party. Power that involves the implementation of his political agenda unfettered by a gubernatorial veto. Without Republicans needed to override a veto or to pass a budget, the Senate Pro-tem and the Speaker wield massive powers.
Latino Legislators are major players in the process. Their numbers are so that they can bargain from a position of strength. They can prevent past practices of bolstering Democratic seats by siphoning registered Democrats from Latino communities. They can also use their numbers to support or prevent a two-thirds vote in both houses. How their powers are used will depend on the wisdom and fortitude of their leaders. The impact of the redistricting will be felt after the elections of 2002. Mr. Burton and Mr. Polanco will be term out of office. They could reappear in the State Assembly if they were not termed out of the Assembly when they took their Senate seats.
If the latter is true, Governor Davis is headed for a bumpy ride during the last two years of his first term. Mr. Davis is in a comfort zone because of his ability to gather obscene amounts of money for his political war chest. He has been able to buy political loyalties, and fend off any opposition. The two-thirds majority, coupled with restrictions on the movement of political monies by incumbents that will take effect in January 2001, will strip him of those trump cards. His carefully charted course to reelection and the U.S. Presidency will have to be redrawn. He will have to change his posture with the Speaker and Senate Pro-tem, but Mr. Davis does not make friends easily. Neither does he share well.
If Latino numbers dwindle after the '02 elections, the victims of this reapportionment will be among four Latino Republican Legislators. They don't have a strong party to fight for their existence, and the Latino Democrats will not protect them.
The Republican party has problems now that will be magnified. Primarily, they are helpless to prevent massive changes to their district lines. Secondly, their ability to raise political money will worsen. Political money is designed to buy access to power. The political parties are the new banks for campaign funds. The purse holding campaign funds shifts from the legislative powers to the parties in January, so the leaders of the parties will have power they have never had over the district elections. So long Art Torres, state chairman of the California Democratic Party.
Redistricting has been in the minds of Democratic leaders for some time. It was on their minds when Mr. Burton was elected Senate Pro-tem. The leaders on the congressional delegation didn't trust redistricting in the hands of Mr. Polanco. So Congressional leaders lobbied State Senators who were leaning toward voting for Mr. Polanco to vote for Mr. Burton. Given the history of the Democratic leaders toward sharing power with Latinos, can we expect them to trust Latinos with the party's purse strings?
The Latino community's political agenda has taken a backseat to the Gay/Lesbian agenda these last four years. Latino leaders have helped advance their agenda, not because they agree with that agenda, but because they adhor discrimination of any kind more.
It is the Latino's sense of fairness and concern for other groups that has allowed Latino communities to be represented by African Americans. These seats have 65 to 70 percent or higher Latino populations, but the Latino political powers will not support any Latino or Latina that challenges these representatives.
It is the fact that Latino political leaders in the Los Angeles Basin have no qualms of taking on non-minority candidates in primaries in the democratic stongholds that makes them suspect among those powers.
Julio Calderón can be reached at Latsac@aol.com