When California's new independent redistricting commission unveiled its maps for 173 legislative and congressional districts last year, Republicans were dismayed.
That dismay turned to anger upon publication of an article describing a clandestine campaign by Democratic political operatives to affect the makeup of the commission and its decisions, and public claims by Democratic leaders that they might pick up as many as eight more congressional seats in California as they sought to reclaim control of Congress.
Those expectations have been throttled back to a possible gain of two or three seats in California. The consensus among political odds-makers now is that Democrats have no chance of retaking Congress this year, in part because they can't count on big gains in California's 53-member delegation.
Those lowered expectations are confirmed in a new study by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law of the nationwide impacts of redistricting. Its report implies that California's independent redistricting, in fact, may have doomed the Democrats' chances.
Republican governors and legislators in other states enhanced GOP prospects of holding or gaining congressional seats with gerrymanders, the report says, while Democrats did not control enough states to offset the Republican plans.
Democrats control California's Legislature and won back the governorship with Jerry Brown in 2010, so if voters hadn't adopted an independent commission, they would have been able to shift a number of congressional seats into Democratic hands with new maps after the 2010 census, thereby offsetting what Republicans were doing in other states. In fact, during Brown's first governorship three decades ago, he and a Democratic Legislature did exactly that, shifting a half-dozen congressional seats to their party after the 1980 census.
Republicans liked the idea of an independent commission when it was first proposed while Democrats disliked it. Then GOP leaders disliked the commission's product and Democrats liked it. But if Republicans retain control of Congress this year, as seems probable, the Brennan report indicates they should like it again.