Remapping of state districts nears finish, but still a bit rocky 

So California’s new redistricting commission, after countless hours of hearings, discussions and mind-numbing exercises in specific line drawing, has produced its almost-final maps of 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.

What now?

Partisan and independent analysts have cranked up their computers, and their scenarios generally agree that the proposed districts, which need one more commission vote this month, would result in a Democratic gain of congressional seats and give Democrats a strong chance to claim two-thirds majorities in both legislative houses.

Whether those conclusions become reality, however, would depend on what happens in “swing” districts — those potentially winnable by either party — in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. And their dynamics would be affected by the new and untested “top two” primary system.

It’s “would” rather than “will” because it’s uncertain whether the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s maps will actually go into effect, since they are subject to attack by those — Republicans, mostly — who believe they got the shaft.

Critics could challenge the maps by referendum — collecting signatures to put them on the 2012 ballot — and if a referendum qualifies, the state Supreme Court would adopt temporary maps for the 2012 elections.

It could simply decree that the commission’s maps be used for 2012 while voters decide their permanent fate.

That’s what the court decided when a Republican referendum challenged the 1981 maps adopted by a Democratic Legislature and then-Gov. Jerry Brown.

Or the Supreme Court could draw its own maps, as it did to break redistricting stalemates after the 1970 and 1990 censuses.

Critics could also file suit directly, alleging that the commission’s maps violate the many, often contradictory, state and federal laws on redistricting. And they could appeal to the U.S. Justice Department, which may review maps for their effects on four California counties subject to the Voting Rights Act’s oversight.

If the commission’s plan survives and takes effect, Democrats will almost certainly achieve two-thirds control of the Senate in 2012 or 2014, and thus could pursue new taxes to close the state’s chronic budget deficit. But a two-thirds majority of the Assembly would be much less certain.

In any event, nothing will happen in time for the next state budget cycle in 2012.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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