Additional Gerrymandering Thoughts

After my last post, I had some more thoughts on gerrymandering. The CA-44th is gerrymandered across counties. Most of the district lies in Riverside, with a slight (and new) Democratic registration advantage. That advantage is consumed by the Republican strength in the much smaller Orange County portion. The two are linked by a strip of the Cleveland National Forest.

One of the impacts of this gerrymander was that it was difficult to get Orange County press to cover the election. Ken Calvert is under investigation for a couple of significant ethical breaches, including the use of earmarks to fund development that increases the value of his property holdings. This was covered rather extensively in Riverside, but went largely unremarked in Orange County.

Likewise, the Hedrick campaign attempted to leverage his opposition to both the Foothill-South (CA-241) toll road extension and offshore drilling in Orange County. Neither got real coverage in the local media, this despite heavy coverage of the toll road extension debate itself.

There just isn’t enough of Orange County in the district to attract a lot of coverage from the Register and we’re well removed from Riverside’s papers. The LA Times doesn’t devote much coverage to Orange County as it is, and as best as I can remember and a search can tell me, the race was never mentioned at all, until it was over. As far as small local papers go, in San Clemente, at least, the two town papers didn’t discuss the race at all and one of them couldn’t be bothered to issue a correction when they misreported the Congressional election results by more than 15%.

I can only assume the issue was as significant for Judy Jones’s challenge in the 73rd Assembly District, split as it is between Orange County and Oceanside.

It is difficult enough for challengers to get media coverage. The problem is only compounded when the districts are gerrymandered across markets.

“Red” California

David Dayen at Calitics has an analysis of Obama’s results in several “red” congressional districts, including mine – CA-44. Obama carried the 44th by 2,500 votes with 49.5%, while the Republican incumbent, Calvert, defeated Bill Hedrick 52-48. This was a shockingly close race for the district, which has been trending Democratic in Riverside County – the first race I remember being actively contested, at least in the Orange County portion.

I only volunteered a little with the Hedrick campaign – spending more time first on Obama and then later on Prop 8. Based on my sketchy anecdotal evidence, however, the myth of unwinnable districts has more than simply institutional repercussions. Many Democrats I spoke with did not really expect that Hedrick could have a chance of winning, which seemed fair given historical evidence. Local press also under-reported the race. Even in the aftermath of the election, one of the local papers misreported the congressional election results, showing Calvert winning by over 20%. Until pressed they refused to print a correction because they viewed the results as irrelevant.

The more Californians are told that elections are predestined by gerrymandering, the less they’ll participate in them. The more the press and the parties act like elections are predestined, the more they actually will be.

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 12:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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