Resolving one key controversy, California's redistricting commission has selected a mapmaker to help craft 177 legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts that will be carefully analyzed for potential partisan tilt.
Q2 Data and Research, an Oakland-based firm, was selected Saturday for the $510,000 consultant contract by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent panel that is replacing the Legislature in drawing political districts every 10 years.
The Q2 firm is owned by Karin Mac Donald, director of the state's redistricting database at the University of California, Berkeley.
The firm 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.
Both firms sparked public debate over whether they would act in a nonpartisan, impartial manner. The redistricting commission spent all day Saturday discussing bids from the two finalists.
California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring, in a letter to the redistricting commission, characterized Mac Donald as a protégé of Bruce Cain, who was chief adviser to Assembly Democrats in a highly controversial 1981 redrawing of political districts. Cain also is a partner in the Q2 firm, Nehring noted.
"I believe Bruce Cain's association with Q2 creates the appearance of partiality due to his deep involvement with the 1980s redistricting - an egregious partisan gerrymander," added Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, in a letter to the 14-member redistricting panel.
Cain, in a letter supporting Q2's bid, said that "I am not a party to Karin Mac Donald's bid in any way."
"Even though I have since 1982 worked in nonpartisan redistricting settings for courts, attorney generals, city attorneys and commissions, it makes a great deal of sense for the (redistricting commission) to have a clean break from the past," Cain said. "I am also no longer a California resident."
In approving Q2's contract, the 14-member redistricting panel stipulated that Cain could play no role in drawing district lines. Mac Donald and the firm's only other full-time professional staffer, Nicole Boyle, are registered as independent voters, bid documents said.
Rose Institute, the other top finalist, was accused of being too cozy with Republican Party interests in years past.
""Let's be clear, the Rose Institute is a conservative Republican organization," wrote the California School Employees Association in a letter of opposition.
In its bid documents, the Rose Institute said it has been active since 1981 in providing statewide redistricting information in an "expert, nonpartisan manner to all interested organizations -- including the media -- and individuals."
California Forward, a bipartisan political reform group, warned the redistricting panel last week that it was not likely to satisfy everyone with its selection, no matter which finalist won.
"The reality is that many of the most experienced demographic consultants with redistricting-related experience have worked with, or been affiliated with, or have been hired by individuals with ties to Republicans or Democrats at some stage in their career. This alone should not be grounds for disqualification," the group said.
"With only two applicants for the position of demographic consultant, it may not be possible to avoid frustrating a significant portion of observers with your final decision."