Officials of the California Republican Party and the Senate Republican Caucus said today that they will support a signature-gathering drive aimed at overturning newly drawn Senate districts meant for next year's election.
The disclosure of a referendum drive came hours after California's independent redistricting commission approved 80 Assembly, 40 Senate, 53 congressional and four Board of Equalization seats, ending months of public hearings and debate.
Commissioner Michael Ward was the sole member of the 14-member panel to vote against all three maps. Commissioner Jodie Filkins Webber joined him in voting no on the congressional map.
Both Ward and Filkins Webber are Republicans. If they had been joined by one other commissioner from their party, the congressional maps would have been rejected.
State law requires maps to be approved by three of five Democratic commissioners; three of five Republican commissioners; and three of four independent or minor-party commissioners.
Ward accused the redistricting commission of playing politics with the drawing of district boundaries, criticizing what he called "dinner table deals and partisan gerrymandering."
"This commission routinely neglected city and county borders in favor of communities of interest, which it interpreted as anything and everything - from traffic and joblessness, to air pollution and ethnicity. As a result, this commission never had a consistent rationale for drawing districts," he said.
Commissioner Vincent Barraba disagreed with his Republican colleague, Ward, saying that he felt the 14-member panel fulfilled its responsibility to draw lines without consideration of party registration or partisan advantage.
"The sense that I get is that Commissioner Ward attended different meetings than I did - or saw them differently," Barabba said.
The referendum drive, to be launched Tuesday, will be led by a coalition called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting, or FAIR, under the auspices of Republican political strategist David Gilliard, officials said.
California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said his party will be raising funds for the effort and helping to gather signatures. Members of the business community also will be involved in challenging the maps, he said.
"There isn't any doubt that (commissioners) inconsistently applied the criteria between the Assembly, Senate and congressional maps - and the worst of it relates to the Senate maps," Del Beccaro said.
The Senate Republican Caucus voted to support the referendum, but their vote did not call for committing any caucus or state funds. Sitting legislators will decide for themselves whether to commit campaign funds.
To qualify the Senate map for the June 2012 ballot, the drive needs 504,760 valid voter signatures. If it reaches that threshold, the California Supreme Court would draw district boundaries or decide which maps to use in next year's political races.
Del Beccaro said a lawsuit opposing the newly drawn districts is in the works, too, but is not expected to be filed for two or three weeks.
The initial focus of challenge is the newly drawn map of Senate districts, although the congressional map may be added later to the fight, Del Beccaro said.
Opponents argue that the redistricting commission, under the guise of keeping various "communities of interest" together, drew districts in a way that often ignored city and county boundaries, were not compact, and favored the Democratic Party or other interest groups.
Del Beccaro particularly is concerned about the possibility that Democrats could gain two Senate seats, enough to give that party the two-thirds supermajority necessary to raise taxes.
"I think the Democrats have concluded that," Del Beccaro said of that party gaining a supermajority in the Senate. "If the Democrats are crowing about it, I'm certainly concerned about it."
Two key Republican seats that could be jeopardized by the new Senate maps are those of incumbents Tony Strickland, of Moorpark, and Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, said there is irony in the fact that opposition to the newly drawn districts is coming largely from members of the Republican Party, whose members were instrumental in passing the 2008 ballot measure that created the redistricting commission.
"By and large, I think they did a fair job," Steinberg said of the redistricting commission.