The California Republican Party's new chairman accused the state's independent redistricting commission Tuesday of playing politics in its hiring of a technical consultant to draw legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts.
Tom Del Beccaro blasted the decision by the commission last Saturday to hire Q2 Data and Research, an Oakland-based firm owned by Karin Mac Donald, director of the state's redistricting database at the University of California, Berkeley.
Q2 drew criticism prior to the commission's vote because Bruce Cain is a partner in the venture. Cain was chief adviser to Assembly Democrats in a highly controversial 1981 redrawing of political districts.
Q2 was selected 13-0 after the other finalist, Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, was disqualified for failure to disclose donors and potential staff conflicts in bid documents.
"The Redistricting Commission's decision to select Q2 Data and Research, a firm widely known for its close political connection to the Democrat Party, to draw district lines defeats the very purpose of the commission's existence," Del Beccaro said in a written statement.
The fledgling redistricting commission was created by voter passage of Proposition 11 in 2008. The measure was pitched as a balanced system for drawing district boundaries in contrast to partisan legislative efforts that created gerrymandered districts in decades past.
"Californians made the right decision to take redistricting power out of the hands of Sacramento politicians and they deserve a process that values openness and transparency," Del Beccaro said.
"The commission was asked by myself and others not to pick that underqualified firm. The decision to hire Q2 may very well undermine the trust of voters in the entire process."
Rose Institute had been accused of being overly partisan, too, but leaning Republican rather than Democratic. The consulting group refuted such allegations in bid documents, characterizing itself as nonpartisan.
Republican Vincent Barabba, a member of the redistricting commission, denied that politics played a role in the selectioin of Q2 and said the 14-member commission -- not Mac Donald or her firm -- ultimately will make the decisions on where political district boundaries will be drawn.
"We'll give very explicit, documented and published directions to the line drawer -- and then the line drawer has to follow those directions," Barabba said.
Democratic Commissioner Cynthia Dai said that Mac Donald was questioned about her ties to Cain and said that his connection to Q2 stemmed largely from a project years ago.
"It seems that the Republican Party and others have tried very hard to try to draw a connection between Q2 Data and Research and the Democratic Party, but as far as we've been able to tell, that simply is not the case," Dai said.
The redistricting commission consists of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independent or minor-party voters. Approval of district maps requires at least three votes from each group.
In a press release announcing Q2's selection, the redistricting commission touted the firm as a "small, non-partisan, woman-owned consulting firm" with "nationally known experts in building redistricting databases."
"The team also includes a Voting Rights Act expert with extensive experience ... and multiple line drawers with hundreds of hours of training and line drawing experience," the press release said.
In hiring Q2, the commission stipulated that Cain could play no role in drawing California's 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization district boundaries for 2012 elections.
Mac Donald and Q2's only other full-time professional staffer, Nicole Boyle, are registered as independent voters, bid documents said.
** Updated at 4:55 p.m. to add comments from redistricting commissioners Cynthia Dai and Vincent Barabba.