Journalism in the Public Interest

How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission

To get the districts they wanted, Democrats organized groups that said they represented communities, but really represented the party.

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Dec. 22, 2011, 6:52 p.m.

California gets what it deserves. Imminent 3rd world status.

Bruce Cain

Dec. 22, 2011, 7:34 p.m.

For the record, my story about the Condor district was in response to a question about whether the rationale for districts was always valid. I offered this as an amusing example of a district that was made up of parts that were left over from other seats and was named for the Condor reservation in the middle. NO ONE in 30 years has ever alleged that the Governor, Jerry Brown, was involved in any way.  It suggests that this story was based more on Republican folklore than impartial investigation.


Dec. 22, 2011, 8 p.m.

W.O.W.  This article is a real expose…politicians are interested in redistricting.  Who would have guessed?
It must be nice to live in such a naive world like these authors must in order to write such a dumb article and try to bill it as investigative.
I can’t wait to read their story when they find out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

A. Brock

Dec. 22, 2011, 8:04 p.m.

Your sources are corrupt Republican partisans; therefore your poorly researched article is biased and misrepresents the actual facts of the matter. Publish the funding sources of your reporting sources.

Steve Chessin, President, Californians for Elector

Dec. 22, 2011, 9:22 p.m.

Well, whether or not things happened as described in the article, I have to point out that if we had proportional representation (multi-member districts with the winners being allocated in direct proportion to the vote), the lines wouldn’t matter so much.  Gerrymandering would be less effective, and the alleged shenanigans described in the article would have less of an effect.

Visit to find out more.

bill collins

Dec. 22, 2011, 10:07 p.m.

richard r has it right - it’s to be expected that parties would try to get their folks to testify.  that’s hardly scandalous.

the commission did what it was directed to do - ignore partisan consequences.  witnesses did not “taint” the decisions of the commission. 

i did not vote to have reapportionment done by a commission, but that’s what the voters chose, and now those who don’t like the outcome want a do-over.

RuthAlice Anderson

Dec. 22, 2011, 10:10 p.m.

I do expect the number of Republican seats to fall since the last redistricting was an incumbent-protection deal that artificially inflated the number of Republican districts. I don’t expect they will increase as much as the partisan sources in the article claim, but they are paid to make outrageous claims and see if someone will buy them.

It seems there was nothing illegal done and the Republicans seem to be whining about being out-organized and outplayed. Well, they have done far worse in Texas when they re-redistricted just after redistricting has been completed already and their answer should suffice here, “Get over it.”


Dec. 22, 2011, 10:18 p.m.

CA is getting what it richly deserves; collapsing economies, substandard education, overpowering illegal immigration and the exploding public services budgets that requires.  The reason no one complains about Republican gerrymandering is that Red states are economically sound.  They are attracting the businesses and educational innovations that Red state regulation and taxes drive away.  congratulations to Democrat skullduggery; hope CA chokes on it.

Richard McDonough

Dec. 22, 2011, 11:52 p.m.

I heard the long piece on NPR yesterday after reading the initial piece here.  Bias sticking out all over the place.  Context is everything.  How did this compare with the past, what efforts were made to investigate GOP actions and interest at the same time, questions like that and more. 

I believe that this is the first piece I have seen from you folks (you are spreading yourselves rather thin and doing some silly stuff, as I have said before) that has a bad odor to it.

Richard McDonough

Dec. 22, 2011, 11:57 p.m.

I added that the piece had the quality of one that would get a C- in a class devoted to objective writing but it disappeared between writing and post in.  Thanks.


Dec. 23, 2011, 12:03 a.m.

It would be relevant to know: What percentage of CA voters is Democrat and Republican? And, will the redistricting make the legislature more or less representative of the voters statewide? I would have expected ProPublica to mention this information. For all one can tell from the article, the Machiavellian machinations of the Democratic party may have made the legislature more representative of the state.

Doug Pearson

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:26 a.m.

I was disappointed to learn that the Democrats had so much influence over the results, but not surprised. THIS is what surprised me:

“California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.

“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.””


I still can’t believe it!

Christian Haesemeyer

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:43 a.m.

This is just complete nonsense, and a very disappointing slap-shot piece of partisan sniping produced by ProPublica. From reliance on a Republican think-tank, to complete ignorance of CA demographics this piece is either incredibly sloppy or intentionally malicious.

It’s astounding that the authors apparently are pining exactly for the incumbent protection racket type, divvying-up-the-districts kind of redistricting CA voters explicitly rejected. Now it’s fine to argue this. What’s not fine is to argue this while pretending to be doing the opposite.


Dec. 23, 2011, 3:16 a.m.

What concerns me most about this story is that the majority of public does not care one iota, but let one hanging chad be miscounted and everyone goes crazy.  Responses such as, ‘the other side does it too,’ or, ‘has anyone looked at Texas,’ miss the point completely.

I live in California and I voted to take the redistricting from the politicians because the process was totally corrupt, now these same politicians are just corrupting the process in a different way negating the law and my vote.

It makes no difference which party is it, you get the government you’re willing to put up with.  Reward corruption because you like the way the corrupt vote, and you’re sure to get more corruption.

Dave Abston

Dec. 23, 2011, 5:02 a.m.

John Burton described this article well: “Bullshit.” A real disappointment that it came from ProPublica.

Allen Payton

Dec. 23, 2011, 5:09 a.m.

As Chairman of the Contra Costa Citizens Redistricting Task Force, this year, I was directly involved in giving testimony to and attending meetings of the Commission. I was there the day they created the current Eastern San Francisco Bay Area Congressional districts. We presented maps, as did their own contractor’s (Q2’s) staffer that clearly showed the basis upon which they made their decision was false. It was Oakland-based Commissioner Galambos Malloy who kept stating they couldn’t follow the COI (Community Of Interest) testimony of (over 300) East Bay residents to use the East Bay hills as a natural dividing line for districts because it would affect the Monterey County Section 5 District. Our maps, as did one of Q2’s iterations, showed that creating an east of the East Bay hills Congressional district would NOT affect Monterey. They didn’t even affect Santa Clara County. Instead the commissioners kept Oakland - the East Bay’s largest city - whole, at the expense of smaller cities, such as Antioch and Martinez, and splitting off San Ramon from the rest of the San Ramon Valley, to protect the incumbent Democrats in Congress. I watched the body language and actions, as well as listened to the words of Commissioner Blanco who pushed to include Richmond in with Central Contra Costa, and separating it from most of the rest of West County, connecting the two areas by two, narrow, two-lane country roads. Her body language was quite telling. The result makes no geographic sense, only political.

Walter D.Shutter, Jr.

Dec. 23, 2011, 8:12 a.m.

Whew! My eyes are burning as I just finished reading every comment to this story. After doing all that work I feel I should make a comment on the comments, perhaps in the style of the Rev. Al Sharpton.  Here goes: 

“Listen up”, ProPublica, “you are dumping on your base, the Democrats, and they are pissed. You got to go back to blaming Greedy Corporations and Republicans like you did in the first story in this series. They are the ones who cut up and stole the blueberry pie.”
The redistricting pie, of course.

David Allgood

Dec. 23, 2011, 8:21 a.m.

ProPublica should be ashamed for publishing this biased nearly fact free account of the redistricting process. Those of us who participated in the process, the Redistricting Commission and everyone knowledgeable about the process are wiping tears of laughter at the assertions of this piece of journamalism. Shame on you.

PD Quig

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:05 p.m.

It’s perfectly fine for redistricting to be an overt, political process, skewed for the benefit of the strongest party. That’s the way politics is understood to work by everybody. What rankles about this ‘independent commission’ is that 1) there is no such thing as Santa Claus or a non-partisan commission—there is only political power play redux as a smaller group of designees fight a surrogate battle and 2) that there was enough naivete as to allow this stupid idea to be adopted—as if it could actually remain an uncorrupted process.

There is only one way to cure CA: catastrophic failure.

M.J. Grove

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:11 p.m.

You lie.  And you don’t even do it effectively.  The only way to regain what reputation you have left is to admit you screwed up and apologize.
M.J. Grove in Beverly Hills, CA
Third Generation Republican


Dec. 23, 2011, 12:42 p.m.

Thank you ProPublica for doing what is necessary in the filed of investigative journalism to shine light on Government corruption at any level.  Keep up the good work . You are now in my favorites list as a must read.

Rick Lyns

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:45 p.m.

Thank you ProPublica for doing needed investigative journalism that shines light on government corruption at all levels . You are now in my favorites list as a must read .

Bill Bowen

Dec. 23, 2011, 12:57 p.m.

As a former resident of California that voted AGAINST the Proposition that created this Commission I’m not the least bit surprised at the results (the ineptness of the commission OR the slanted results).

This article just confirms the wisdom of my decision to leave California after 25 years, a decision I made on Election Night 2010. Numerous friends have made a similar decision - the “producers” are leaving the sinkhole that California has become to the “moochers” & the manipulators - it is “Atlas Shrugged” in real life.

I remember well when Loretta Sanchez stole that House election from Bob Dornan with the votes of illegal aliens and other non-citizens, but what disgusted me even more was the fact that the Republicans didn’t lift a finger in Dornan’s challenge. That was when I dropped my Republican registration & re-registered “Decline to State”.

Finally, I’m not the least bit surprised that the Republicans where caught flat-footed by the Demorats manipulation of this process. The leadership of the California Republican Party has been AWOL & totally out to lunch for at least 15 years, if not longer.

California, I hope you like the results that you’ve gotten from this Commission - this is a “self-inflicted wound”.

J Williamson

Dec. 23, 2011, 1:03 p.m.

The Democratic Party has done absolutely nothing wrong here. California is a true-Blue Democrat state, and no amount of political manipulation can change that. The poor put-upon Repubs crying foul that the voters of this state and the redistricting commission told them to shove off is just hilarious. The GOP wrecking crew represents such a tiny minority in this state that if every election were genuinely free and fair, there would likely be no elected Republican anywhere in California. That fact that some districts are still “safe GOP seats” is testimony that Republican corruption is still with us.

Jonathan Seaward

Dec. 23, 2011, 2:14 p.m.

This was a political hit piece, pure and simple.  It’s a press release by the California Republican Party.  ProPublica, whatever legitimacy you may have had before, you lost it.  It’s best that you retract and apologize for this shoddy excuse for journalism before the Pulitzer committee asks for their award back.

William C Crain

Dec. 23, 2011, 4:29 p.m.

Excellent Article ProPublica and the naysayers seemingly reflect a single source in my opinion. The response from a participant in the Commissions activities, David Salaverry, that seemed to be spot on.    Dirty Trix were Nixon’s specialty and both wings of the Capitalist Party caught on long ago. The DLC may be in the closet but they are working hard inside the DCCC/DSCC
  I wonder how much of this would be an issue if we had mandatory Public Financing of All Campaigns???
  i live in Montana but born and raised in CA with 45 years as a resident of the SFV in Los Angeles. We only have one District in MT so we don’t have that issue but the Dem Party run by Baucus, who pulls almost all the strings, does the same backroom drama for other Capitalist Dem Party Machine preferences.


Dec. 23, 2011, 4:59 p.m.

@Caroline, who proclaimed:  “The reason no one complains about Republican gerrymandering is that Red states are economically sound.  They are attracting the businesses and educational innovations that Red state regulation and taxes drive away.”

Seeing as Texas is the premier example of the art form Republicans have made out of gerrymandering, I thought you might be interested in this link describing their “educational innovations”:

Of course, you didn’t specify that “innovation” had to be positive...

And regarding “financially sound”...

They’re in a cycle now of transforming Texas into a banana republic complete with the social decay that typifies such governments - all to ensure the wealthy can get wealthy at the expense of both the present and future of Texas and its citizens.


Dec. 23, 2011, 5:02 p.m.

Matter of fact, it is pretty easy to pick out the “Red” states.  Especially if you use the color red to indicate poverty:

PD Quig

Dec. 23, 2011, 6:50 p.m.

The only lifeform more ridiculous than a CA Dem is a Third Generation CA Republican. One of the primary reasons that CA has succumbed to boundless liberal pathology, is that the CA GOP couldn’t sell firewater to the Indians. The procession of nincompoop candidates trotted out biennially by the CA GOP,  up and down the ticket, is surpassed only by their comfort in their role as opposition party (or should I say, “roll,” as in roll over onto your back and bare your genitals to the alpha dog?). You just don’t get it, do you Beverly Hills GOP? The GOP lost CA as much as the Dems won it. Now you deserve each other.

M.J. Grove

Dec. 23, 2011, 9:31 p.m.

PD Quig:  You seem to have missed my point.  I agree that the GOP has lost California through miserable candidates.  In each partisan primary, I vote for the “best” (of a sorry lot) Republican, who loses.  Then in the general election, I vote for the best candidate.  I can’t remember the last time that was a Republican. 

The GOP is getting what their poor policies and candidates deserve.  Democrats don’t have to “steal” reapportionment advantages when their electoral performance has earned it.

M.J. Grove in Beverly Hills
Third Generation Republican, and plenty pissed off

Bolivar Shagnasty

Dec. 24, 2011, 2:17 p.m.

Nothing new here but as they say in the Russian Marines: “Tough Shitski”

Paul Hoover

Dec. 24, 2011, 6:57 p.m.

Proportional representation anyone?

Mitchell Young

Dec. 24, 2011, 8:59 p.m.

Why are whites not represented in the redistricting process?

Further, why is their no discussion of immigration policy, which has been behind Loretta Sanchez’s vaunted “Latino Population Growth”. It is by now obvious there is no economic benefit to immigration on net (look at California, with its ruined state finances, increasing college tuition, above average unemployement, and net domestic outmigration, despite its large immigrant populations). This report makes it equally clear that native-born whites are big political losers because of immigration.

Dwight Janson

Dec. 25, 2011, 7:50 a.m.

Iowa has it right. They take voting history out of the equation. If the map drawers don’y how you voted they can’t put you in a group. The joke is on elections night all of these incumbents will stand up and claim how hard it was to win and how much the voters love them. The Bastards.

Mikey M

Dec. 25, 2011, 12:40 p.m.

Where is the attribution?

What lobbyest lives in Sacramento but claimed to represent San Gabriel Valley?

Memo’s have authors, as do emails: why are we given quotes from so-called memos and emails, but not the names who wrote them and to whom they were sent?

For every attribution that is given, we have two unattributed declarations.  Not surprisingly, it’s always “the good stuff, the smoking gun” that seemingly comes only from the ether.

What ever happened to real journalism?


Dec. 26, 2011, 2:08 a.m.

Obviously a NeoCon-planted story. We would not do anything like that. Just a racist ploy, typical of the Christian Right racist people they are.

Doug M

Dec. 26, 2011, 5:56 p.m.

More on the absurdity of the articles lead-off claim of improprieties—that the Golden Gate Bridge was used as a dividing line:

The previous versions of district, which were notorious for gerrymandering, gave San Francisco Democrats _two_ safe seats by dividing the city and attaching portions of the adjacent counties—San Mateo and Marin (across the GG Bridge)—with the complaints that those areas were poorly represented by the elected officials, in terms of attention and interests.

The current redistricting puts San Francisco in a _single_ district, with the adjacent counties now part of their more natural groupings.

This is in direct contradiction of what Pro Publica claims was wrong with the redistricting. Would Pro Publica care to explain its reasoning for what it offered as its lead-off example??

Peter Snowden

Dec. 26, 2011, 8:32 p.m.

I’m a republican as far as registration and I think Pro Publica is about as good as it gets in the world of journalism.  What is so surprising about most of the democrat remarks here is how little interest there is in good government.  When you start not liking all the potholes your car is falling into and aren’t real excited about the crap education your kid is getting, you know where to look—in the mirror.

If you accept junk government, that is what you will get.


Dec. 26, 2011, 9:52 p.m.

“Junk government” was the Republican and neoliberal conspiracy that was their attack on the nation’s tax base from both ends simultaneously: 

From the bottom four economic quintiles, by attacking the nation’s manufacturing and service sectors with inequitable free trade. 

And from the other direction - the top economic quintile - by forever reducing their tax burden, incentivizing their diversion of ever more of America’s income to themselves, thence to disappear into the black hole of their greed never to be seen again.

And that attack from the lower end?  That strained our tax base even more by making it impossible for ever more Americans to find the jobs they need to live a decent life…to grasp at the tatters of the “American Dream” the 1% strive so hard to destroy.

lollll…that was “junk government”:  Making America too poor to be…America.


Dec. 27, 2011, 2:52 p.m.

While I appreciate the concept of Pro Publica and some of its past work, this story overreaches to make a pre-conceived point. You quote Professor Doug Johnson as if he is your main independent, academic expert without mentioning that the Rose Institute has been the main go-to think tank for developing Republican reapportionment plans for decades. He’s not credible unless you use him for a Republican point of view and balance him with a similar Democratic “expert.” Did you not learn this in your research or did you not mention it to further build your conspiracy case?


Dec. 27, 2011, 2:54 p.m.

While I appreciate the concept of Pro Publica and some of its past work, this story overreaches to make a pre-conceived point. You quote Professor Doug Johnson as if he is your primary independent, academic expert without mentioning that the Rose Institute has been the main go-to think tank for developing Republican reapportionment plans for decades. He’s not credible unless you use him for a Republican point of view and balance him with a similar Democratic “expert.” Did you not learn this in your research or did you not mention it to further build your conspiracy case?

Andy Cohen

Dec. 28, 2011, 3:18 p.m.

A pretty strong rebuke of this Pro-Publica piece:

It’s pretty clear that Ms. Pierce and Mr. Lawson don’t have a very good grasp of California politics.  They apparently didn’t even consider the possibility that perhaps the redistricting process went slightly in favor of Democrats because California HEAVILY favors Democrats.  While the rest of the country saw a veritable Republican tidal wave in 2010, Republicans failed to win a single statewide race in California, including a governor’s race where the Democrats were outspent 10:1.  Democrat Jerry Brown won that race over Republican Meg Whitman by 13 points despite the disparity in funding.  And the Rose Institute that the authors of this story relied so heavily on?  It’s a purely Republican funded and partisan group, so it’s no real surprise that they would find the results of the redistricting process not to their liking. 

Take a look at the Calitics retort linked above.  It pretty repudiates the overstated influence highlighted in by the Pro-Publica writers.

Thomas L. Bloxham

Dec. 31, 2011, 9:02 p.m.

At risk of appearing “Pollyannaish” I think the broad thrust of the article is to reveal the intense political maneuvering over a subject the body politic voted to remove from political intervention.  It should be a felony to misrepresent one’s self before a public body.  Each speaker should have been placed under oath that the comments intended to be relied upon where not politically motivated.  This did not occur and much misrepresentation was relied upon tainting the process.  Most citizens of this state want appropriate redistricting not based on any party’s agenda.  Many in politics will pay no attention to this but we wish they would.


Jan. 1, 2012, 10:30 a.m.

@Thomas L. Bloxham, who emoted:  “It should be a felony to misrepresent one’s self before a public body.”

If that were the case, there wouldn’t be any need for political parties at all; no matter who you elected, you’d get somebody who actually intended to do the job of representing all of the people in that district rather than just the ones with the deepest pockets or those who shared a common religion or political ideology with the politico.

And so how districts were drawn wouldn’t matter.


Jan. 1, 2012, 10:39 a.m.

Hmmm…I failed to account for the fact that there still might be some districts who would elect a politico who - because the alternative was prison - actually told the truth and said something like “If you elect me, I will do whatever Big Carbon wants to the exclusion of all other interests!” - thus leaving some percentage less than the majority of that district out in the cold (and coughing up blood like everybody else - but without a surprised look on their face).

The American people can be…whimsical…to the point of suicidal folly, sometimes.

Don Jusko

Jan. 1, 2012, 3:52 p.m.

There is a group of politicians we have never labeled or gone after, the LIARS. We were brought up with, the white lie, just kidding, fooling around. Liars were always given a free pass. Well it’s gotten too big to ignore.
    Politicians are doing it and they think they can get away with it. These people are dangerous and our kids shouldn’t be brought up that way, we should not lie, ever. It’s God’s 9th Commandment, do not lie.
    Liars should be held accountable. We don’t want liars getting their way as they did in redistricting CA. When a lie is caught it’s grounds to nullify the decision. Just for starters, Obama lied and he’s out, it should be before the election, he was caught lying.


Jan. 1, 2012, 4:06 p.m.

@Don:  Stop lying!! Repeating someone else’s made up lies is the same as lying yourself. You “holier than thou” folks drive us all nuts.


Jan. 1, 2012, 4:16 p.m.

@Tony:  Not to mention, comments like his are just begging people like myself to wonder aloud: 

“Was ‘flood-up/trickle-down’ economics - the essential foundation for all things Republican - a lie?  Or is there like a millennia or so delay between ‘flood-up’ and ‘trickle-down’ and I’m just too…impatient???”

PacRim Jim

Jan. 2, 2012, 4:34 a.m.

California is dead.
Thanks a heap, Democrats.

Don Jusko

Jan. 2, 2012, 7:20 a.m.

Yea, that’s what I’m talking about. Tony Yesterday, 4:06 p.m.
@Don:  Stop lying!! Repeating someone else’s made up lies is the same as lying yourself. You “holier than thou” folks drive us all nuts.

I know your’e trying to start a fight with me. Drop dead. I wouldn’t say “driving you nuts”, it’s more like a short putt.

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Redistricting: How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote

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