BY JACOB GANZ
Los Angeles County has the largest population of any county in the entire country; its population of 10 million is greater than 42 states. It is run by five members on the board of supervisors, each of which has a district within the county, and each supervisor must weigh the concerns and opinions of a massive and diverse constituency.
Los Angeles County is overwhelming Democratic, which is reflected in the makeup of the board of supervisors. Currently, there are four Democrats and one Republican. However, a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown attempts to build on the Democrats’ massive advantage by attempting to stamp out the Republican voice on the board.
In 2010, Los Angeles created a nonpartisan commission to impartially redraw the districts for the board of supervisors. The commission is supposed to not use political parties to determine the borders of a district. The state also uses nonpartisan commissions to determine congressional and state legislature districts.
However, Democrats in Sacramento took exception to the nonpartisan commission. In 2016, State Senator Ricardo Lara authored Senate Bill 958, which aimed to redraw the supervisors districts in Los Angeles. Senate Bill 958, if passed, will create a 14-member commission that can redraw the districts without approval of the current board. This new commission will also be organized in an extremely partisan way. Senate Bill 958 states that “the political party preferences of the commission members…shall be as proportional as possible to the total number of voters who are registered with each political party in the County of Los Angeles.” While this may appear fair in theory, in practice it will allow the Democratic Party – which has a significant edge in voter registration – to control the commission and thus determine the districts of board of supervisors unilaterally. The process of drawing districts to benefit one party or group over another is known as gerrymandering. The Democrats currently have a supermajority in the California State Legislature and are using it to gerrymander Los Angeles County. This power grab will likely eliminate the one Republican district in the county, thus consolidating Democratic power in the county.
On September 28, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 958 despite a veto request from the Democratic Chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Hilda Solis. The county leaders were furious at this invasive legislation and so, in February of 2017, they filed a lawsuit against the state of California. Solis and the other county leaders, argue that Senate Bill 958 discriminates against independents and attacks local control because it addresses only Los Angeles County. Proponents of the bill argue that it adds transparency to the process and is more representative of the demographic realities of the county. The author of the bill, Senator Lara, released a statement, arguing that “this new law will ensure that the people of Los Angeles County have a greater representative voice.” The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Supervisor Court, claims the bill violates the California constitution.
Senate Bill 958 infringes on the rights of the County of Los Angeles to determine the districts for their board of supervisors. It is unfair because it singles out Los Angeles County for state interference while it allows all other counties to choose their respective redistricting systems. Senate Bill 958 discriminates against independents: by forcing Los Angeles County to create a commission based on party affiliation, the bill makes it difficult for independents to gain a foothold in county politics. Last year, 25 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County stated that they had “no party preference.” Under Senate Bill 958, independents will have little voice in choosing their representatives on the board because they will be a minority on the commission.
Unfortunately, this trend has been occurring around the country amongst both parties. A federal court recently found that Texas was “intentionally discriminating against minority voters.” The Republican majorities in both houses of the Texas legislature and the governorship have led them to get greedy to cement their electoral lead by gerrymandering the districts for the State Legislature.
Party leaders on boths sides of the aisle have spoken out against gerrymandering. President Obama denounced gerrymandering in his final State of the Union. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” he said. This admirable principle is being lived up to in neither Texas nor Los Angeles County.
Governor Brown and the other Democratic leaders in Sacramento are being greedy by attempting to make California bluer than it already is; they are stooping to the level of the Republicans in Texas and other states. By attempting to stamp out minority and opposition voices in Los Angeles and Texas, both Democrats and Republicans are mutually ushering in an even more partisan era in American politics.