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Call it the end -- of the beginning.

The final six members of California's first-ever independent citizens redistricting commission were selected today, paving the way for the panel to begin its task of drawing the state's legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.

Members chosen today were Democrats Gabino Aguirre and Maria Blanco, Republicans Gil Ontai and Michael Ward, and two people not affiliated with either party -- Michelle DiGuilio-Matz and M. Andre Parvenu.

The selections were made by eight sitting members of the commission who were selected in a lottery-type drawing Nov. 18 from 36 finalists culled from a field of about 30,000 applicants. The six new members were nominated as a slate last Friday, but a final vote was withheld until today to accept public comment.

The only dispute today, consuming about an hour of debate, was whether to alter the proposed slate to add Paul McKaskle, who served as chief counsel for special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court to draw boundary lines in 1973 and 1991, after state lawmakers and the governor reached impasse those years.

The commission floated the idea last week of hiring McKaskle as a redistricting consultant, but McKaskle sent the panel a letter Sunday expressing serious reservations about accepting a paid position. Commissioners switched gears today and reconsidered selecting him as one of their final six colleagues.

To add McKaskle, a motion was made to remove DiGuilio-Matz -- the commission's only Central Valley resident -- from the slate under consideration. The proposal died because most members decided that Central Valley representation was crucial to ensure geographic diversity.

"You can buy expertise, you can't buy (geographic) representation," temporary Chairman Peter Yao said. "I think that representation in that area is really critical."

Ultimately, the commission approved its initial six-person slate by a vote of 7-1. The lone dissenter was Republican Jodie Filkins Webber, who apparently wanted to consider other changes to the slate as well.

Blanco, of Los Angeles, is former national counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She has experience in drawing political districts, having reviewed census data and proposing maps during California's 2001 redistricting.

Aguirre, of Santa Paula, was born into a low-income farmworker family and now holds a doctoral degree in education from the University of California, Los Angeles. He works as a mental health consultant for Ventura County.

Ontai, of San Diego, is a self-employed architect and a part-time lecturer at Springfield College. He also is a San Diego planning commissioner and served as a volunteer in helping shape the city's 1981 district maps.

Ward, of Anaheim, is a chiropractor and former U.S. Air Force special agent with special training in computer forensics, electronic media analysis and contracting or financial fraud. He is a registered member of the Choctaw Indian Tribe.

DiGuilio-Matz, of Stockton, holds a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Cincinnati. She is a former coordinator of internal workshops and other programs for the University of Pacific's Center for Teaching and Learning.

Parvenu, of Culver City, is a Los Angeles city planner who worked in 2000 for the U.S. Department of Commerce as a community partnership specialist, holding public forums and other events to disseminate information about the federal census.

Ultimately, the 14-member panel must complete its map-drawing task by Aug. 15, assuming once-a-decade responsibilities formerly held by the Legislature.

Created by voter passage of Proposition 11 in 2008, the commission must consist of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independent or minor-party voters who reflect the state's racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.

After selection of the final six today, the panel consists of four Asian Americans, three Caucasians, three Hispanic or Latinos, two African Americans, one Pacific Islander, and one American Indian.

Four of the commissioners are from Los Angeles County, and one apiece from San Francisco, Yolo, San Diego, Alameda, Santa Cruz, Orange, Santa Clara, Ventura, Riverside and San Joaquin counties.

Only two of the 14 commissioners currently have incomes below $75,000. For their work in redistricting, they will be paid $300 for each day that they conduct public business.

Maps drawn by the redistricting commissioners must be approved by at least nine of the 14 members, including three Democrats, three Republicans, and three who are not affiliated with either major party.


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