September 7, 2001

Commentary

Chismes de Mi Gallinero:

Chicanos and Reapportionment Democrat-Style

By: Julio C. Calderón

It is Labor Day 2001 and it is 4:15 in the morning. I am at the keyboard even before Javier Solis, el gallo, sings his mañanitas, rousting the girls in the gallinero, and neighbors for blocks around. Sleep has been disturbed since the announcement of new Assembly, Senate and Congressional districts that will rule politics for the rest of the decade.

As usual, I have been waiting to see what fortunes or misfortunes await our Chicano politicos. This reapportionment was of particular interest because it was completely controlled by Democrats with no Republican governor to protect our community.

We, as a community, made great advances politically during the 1990s when Governor Pete Wilson put reapportionment in the hands of the California Supreme Court, as we did after Governor Ronald Reagan before him had done the same for the 1970s reapportionment.

Of course, we also have term-limits to thank for the opportunities that not only produced the highest number of Latinos and Latinas in the State Legislature, but also the first elected Republican Latinos and Latina. This reapportionment, for the most part, protects the status quo, but at the same time, is forward looking. While most Latino incumbents are safe in Democrat and Republican districts, it is their future advancement that is being stymied.

There is also an obvious concern to protect Democrat Congressional incumbents - not from Republicans - but from Latino Democrats. Case in point, Rep. Howard Berman D-Los Angeles, who represents the 26th District - a safe Democratic seat. Safe from Republicans, not so safe from Latino politicos who face eventual term limits.

Mr. Berman has watched his district get browner and browner over the years. This was confirmed by the 2000 U. S. Census. His seat was now 39 percent Latino. Mr. Berman is half of the famed Waxman-Berman political machine that has controlled politics in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for decades. They even influenced politics in East Los Angeles over the years.

This changed in 1998. Mr. Berman's friend Richard Katz was beaten by Richard Alarcon, who became the first Latino State Senator elected from the valley, in a hand-to-hand combat with the State Senator Richard Polanco, East Los machine. This was followed by the election of the first Latino Assemblyman from the area, Tony Cardenas.

Mr. Berman's solution to this potential problem was to have his brother, Michael, who was hired to draw the districts for the Democrats, cut the Latino percentage in his district to 17 percent, thus ensuring a few more years in Washington D.C.

Assemblymembers Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside and Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria both Republicans, were planning a run for the Senate next year. Mr. Pacheco is termed-out and was in a Senate seat that would also open.the new lines cut his home out of that district. Mr. Maldonado was also in a seat that would open next year; he is now in a seat with a Republican incumbent who terms out in 2004.

A war was avoided in Fresno between Assemblymembers Dean Florez, D-Shafter and Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno. They are both in the Senate seat that will open because Senator Jim Costa D-Fresno is termed out. Ms. Reyes opted to seek reelection and avoid the bloodbath. However, Fresno City Council President Henry Perea also had plans to run for the Reyes seat which she would have had to abandon to run for the Senate. Word is that Mr. Perea has no inclination of halting his campaign plans.

At this point, some would say that this is regression in Chicano politics to the Mexican crab era. The ladies occupying the gallinero laying boxes and I see this as part of our political progression, not unlike when Whites run against each other in primary elections. Fresno, like Los Angeles, has been developing strong, viable Latino candidates. It is only natural that we would see this kind of contests in our community. The seat is a safe Democratic seat, so there is no fear that a Latino community divided in candidate loyalties will turn the seat over to a White or Latino Republican. Besides, historically, no one first elected to the Fresno City Council has ever moved up to the Legislature.

The Democrats in Sacramento have been hunkered down for months crunching numbers and drawing new lines. The new districts have to be on the governor's desk by September 14. The law requires public input prior to the new districts becoming fact in California. The public was shown the new lines two weeks before the deadline, and one week before the deadline, the Legislators convened joint public hearings.

This avoids boisterous and emotional public outcries. Cities and communities are being divided into unrecognizable districts. A State Senate seat in Fresno will also represent Stockton, a hundred miles to the north.Central Valley seats will be joined with seats in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Los Angeles. In this case, public input is a sham.

The Democrats' ploy was two-fold; the first was to move the elections to March of 2002; the second was to wait until the very last minute to make their new districts public. The latter puts a sense of urgency to any court challenges that may come from their creative work.

This has the gallinero buzzing. Politics in the fall will have some excitement building up to the March primaries in California.

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