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Who's shaping California's political landscape for the next 10 years?

by Stewart Kwoh and Arturo Vargas Friday, Feb. 05, 2010 at 6:14 AM
rrauzon@caforward.org 916-599-2911 2 Palomino, Trabuco Canyon, CA, 92679

California's new Citizens Redistricting Commission. Never heard of it? You're not alone.

California's diversity is everywhere.

You can see diverse faces on our streets, in our schools and where we work. And you can see the diversity of our state's various regions reflected in the breadth of industries, climates, and lifestyles across California.

Our diverse population and geography is what gives California its creative spark, that special energy you can't find anywhere else.

Our state's diversity has become part of our politics as well. We've all learned that we make better decisions when every community has a seat at the table.

But that doesn't just happen automatically. It takes time and effort - and people willing to step up and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

A case in point: California's new Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Never heard of it? You're not alone. But this new commission is poised to play a key role in shaping politics in California for the next decade - and they're looking to citizens to sign up to take part. That's the good news.

The not-so-good news is that the applications received so far don't reflect California's diversity.

Of the more than 7,000 individuals who have already applied:

" Only a quarter are people of color even though people of color make up over half of the state's population

" Only 3 out of 10 applicants are women

" And only 36 percent reside in Southern California, home to over 6 out of 10 Californians

At the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, we're working hard to change those numbers before the February 12 deadline to apply for membership on the commission. Working with a number of partner organizations, we're holding workshops across the state to inform people about the commission and assist them with the application process. We are joined by other organizations who are also outreaching to their constituencies.

What's so important about this new commission? The commission will oversee California's redistricting process - the once-a-decade redrawing of district boundaries for state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization seats to make the population of each district equal.

It may sound like an arcane job - but it's critically important. Every person in California should have a chance to have his or her voice heard, and redistricting is how we turn that idea into reality. That requires some difficult decisions about which communities belong together within a political district - and these decisions will be made by the commission.

Until voters approved Proposition 11 last year, state redistricting was controlled by the Governor and the Legislature. Proposition 11 changes things by giving state redistricting power to the commission, with the hope of making the process more transparent. Whether this change is for the better remains to be seen. What's for sure is that the commission holds the political future of the state's communities in its hands.

So, exactly who can serve on this new 14-member commission?

To qualify, you need to be a registered voter, with consistent registration over the last five years, and have voted in at least two of the last three general elections.

There are conflict-of-interest provisions - neither you nor any close relative can have been a federal or state political candidate, a lobbyist, or have donated ,000 or more to a California candidate in the last 10 years.

You can find out more at our organizations' websites. For a schedule of workshops coordinated by APALC and its redistricting coalition, visit www.facebook.com/capafr2011. The NALEO Educational Fund is providing information about the commission at www.LatinosDrawtheLines.org. You can also see other organizations' events and workshops at www.redistrictingCA.org.

This new commission is something of an experiment. We won't know exactly what the commission will come up with until it's actually formed and gets to work in 2011.

But this much is clear from the outset. The commission needs to reflect the diversity of our state -for the commission to do its job well, it will need people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives at the table. Just as importantly, we need a commission that is inclusive of all of our population and geography if its decisions are to have credibility and public trust.

Thankfully, we're long past the day when we had to settle for just one kind of anything in California. We want choices and alternatives. We expect to hear every side of the argument - and every point of view.

It's what makes California special - as long as we all stand up, speak up - and in this case, sign up. You can apply directly for membership at the commission's website www.WeDrawTheLines.ca.gov. The deadline for applications is February 12, so it's important to step forward now.

Stewart Kwoh is the President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. Arturo Vargas is the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

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