LGBTs largely absent in CA redistricting debate

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday June 22, 2011
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California's LGBT community has largely been absent, so far, in the debate over how to draw the state's legislative and congressional districts.

Few LGBT people have spoken up during the Citizens Redistricting Commission's public meetings to date, said the oversight panel's lone out member, San Francisco resident Cynthia Dai.

"We have had several LGBT speakers at our meetings in Los Angeles, Salinas and Oakland but it was not a huge number," said Dai, an electrical engineer who is an out lesbian and Asian American. "If a community doesn't speak up, it doesn't get represented."

LGBT leaders concede the fight over how to create political boundaries based on the 2010 Census for state Assembly and Senate seats, as well as California's 53 House seats, hasn't been a top priority.

Prior to the June 10 release of the commission's draft maps for the new political boundaries, "frankly, the gay community was MIA," said San Francisco resident Chris Bowman, a gay man who has closely watched the redistricting process for decades.

That day Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, did submit a letter requesting that the commission take the LGBT community into account in determining district boundaries and sent in maps highlighting LGBT neighborhoods in various cities around the state.

EQCA's letter stated that LGBT communities "should remain intact ... especially those that exist in a particular political subdivision as a minority community."

Communities of color, however, have been more engaged in the process than the LGBT community, acknowledged Clark Williams, northern chair of the state Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus. In many cities, said Williams, LGBT groups have focused instead on the redrawing of local districts for city council and Board of Supervisor seats.

"Where I am hearing more concerns about is on the local level," he said. "There is more advocating on that."

Yet the lack of LGBT voices weighing in on the decennial state redistricting process is expected to reverse course this weekend as the commission holds meetings in San Jose Saturday, June 25 and in San Francisco Monday, June 27.

Local LGBT leaders requested the commission reschedule its San Francisco meeting once they learned it had initially been set for Sunday during the city's annual Pride Parade and festival. The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, in particular, has been urging its members to attend the commission hearing.

Openly gay Supervisor Scott Wiener plans to address the panel, as he told the Bay Area Reporter this week he has grave concerns about the potential diminution of LGBT voters' voices in electing state legislative leaders. Of utmost concern, he said, is the likelihood that no LGBT people could be serving in the state Senate after 2012.

In San Diego, Democratic lesbian state Senator Christine Kehoe will be termed out next year. Fellow Democrat Toni Atkins, a lesbian Assemblywoman, is expected to seek re-election to her San Diego seat.

Openly gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who represents the current 3rd Senate District, is expected to run for re-election next year. But he will only be able to do so if the city's newly drawn district is given an odd number.

The city is set to lose one of its two Senate seats, and if the remaining one is given an even number, then Leno would have to wait until 2014 to run. State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) won't be termed out until 2014 and, if he loses his mayoral bid, will remain in office no matter what number is given to the lone San Francisco district.

Residents in the eastern half of San Francisco may have a two-year gap, pointed out Wiener, where they did not elect the senator representing the city in Sacramento.

"It is extremely important that the community let the redistricting commission know that the San Francisco Senate District needs to be an odd number so all of San Francisco has representation in the state Senate," said Wiener. "I also think it is important to have LGBT representation in the state Senate. With Kehoe and Leno gone, we face the possibility of not having an LGBT state senator for the entire state of California and that is a problem. So people need to mobilize and let the commission know that it is important for San Francisco and the LGBT community to continue to have full state representation."

There is a chance that former state Assemblyman John Laird could run for a new Central Coast Senate District that is proposed for the Santa Cruz region. The openly gay Laird lost his bid last summer for a Senate seat that was gerrymandered 10 years ago and centered further south along the coast.

While Laird told the B.A.R. he is "very happy" serving as Governor Jerry Brown's secretary of the state resources agency, he said he is taking a look at seeking the Senate seat.

"The draft map for the Central Coast Senate district is very favorable to me, and many people have been calling. I'm the only Democrat who's run in most of the new district, and in November 2012 I'd be odds-on to win," he wrote in an email.

In San Jose attention is being closely paid to what Assembly districts the city's neighborhoods end up in, as Latino residents have expressed anger at the commission's first round proposal and are advocating for changes. That could benefit out Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager, a San Jose resident.

His neighborhood landed in what is being called the Silicon Valley Assembly District rather than the San Jose Assembly District. If the lines do not change, it means he could be running for the same seat next fall as openly gay Campbell City Councilman Evan Low.

Last week, Yeager announced he had formed an official campaign committee and began raising money for his run. But if Low's boss, Assemblyman Paul Fong, decides to seek the seat, then both Low and Yeager likely would drop out and wait until 2014 to mount a bid.

"Anything is possible. Really," Yeager wrote in an email. "Much is unknown, but I needed to let my intentions be known."

Williams said there is also the possibility that Yeager could opt to seek a congressional seat, depending on how the lines shake out. He plans to address the commission Saturday and is waiting to see what changes the Latino leaders advocate.

"Ken lives a few blocks outside the San Jose Assembly District. If the Latino community is successful in keeping more Latinos in the San Jose district, it means the lines will move," said Williams. "It is hard, as you know. You can't go to the commission and say 'I really want Ken Yeager to run in the San Jose district.' You've got to figure out what the community of interest is."

In San Francisco LGBT leaders plan to speak up against how the commission has drawn the lines for the city's two Assembly Districts. Under the draft plan several LGBT neighborhoods would move from the 13th District, which has elected three out legislators, and end up in the 12th District, which has been a launch pad for Asian lawmakers.

By carving LGBT voters out of the 13th District, it could weaken out candidates' chances at the ballot box, warned Bowman.

"They cut out seven upper middle-class gay precincts from the district in Corona Heights, Ashbury Heights, east of Twin Peaks, and Diamond Heights then put in roughly 50,000 people from the Portola District, the Excelsior, Visitacion Valley and Sunnydale, half of which voted for Prop 8," said Bowman, referring to the same-sex marriage ban passed in 2008. "It is bonkers. The people on the commission doing the line drawing don't know San Francisco politics or the geography of our neighborhoods."

The commission resorted to neighborhood boundaries developed by the city's planning commission to help it draw the Assembly boundaries, said Dai.

"We would love to know if people agree. We wanted to keep neighborhoods whole as close as possible. Most of the LGBT community is together," said Dai. "There is still room for significant changes."

She urged those opposed to the draft maps to not just voice their complaints but also provide solutions of how to change the lines.

"Where did we totally miss and get it wrong and why? Without the rationale anyone's opinion is as good as anybody's," she said. "You have to make a tradeoff. Compelling evidence and rationale is going to win out."

The commission is expected to release its next round of draft maps, which will have numbers for the districts, in early July. It then plans to finalize the maps by mid-August.

Dai is hopeful that more LGBT people will address the commission at its San Francisco hearing, even if it is the day after Pride.

"Don't get too hung-over for the public hearing," she said. "And if you are hung-over, send in an email."

The June 27 meeting takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. inside the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center off Marina Boulevard.

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