Thursday, December 13, 2001
Alan Clayton says the map he has drawn as an alternative to the state Senate''s new redistricting plan protects the rights of Latinos, environmentalists and Monterey County Democrats. But he has yet to find local support for his plan.
Clayton, a Los Angeles-based redistricting champion, says his plan proves that ruling Senate Democrats-who redrew the state''s Senate districts-could have achieved their stated goal of creating two Latino-majority districts without splintering the Central Coast.
Seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer argued that the new maps create a Latino "community of interest"-a phrase from the Voting Rights Act describing a group of people who vote along similar lines.
"Latino voters will have a much-increased ability to influence the results of the upcoming Senatorial election," Lockyer wrote.
The document doesn''t mention the back-room deal between Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and Senate Minority Leader James Brulte to protect 26 Democratic incumbents'' seats and appease Republicans by guarding the 14 seats they now hold.
The Justice Department must approve changes in Monterey''s voting districts of because of the county''s history of denying representation to Latino voters. On Nov. 30, the department approved the new Senate lines.
In doing so, DOJ rejected Assemblyman Fred Keeley''s claim that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by preventing the development of two strong Latino districts, one in Salinas and one in Merced.
On Nov. 29, Clayton and a coalition of Latino activists submitted a 21-page report to the DOJ, asking the agency to sue the state of California in an attempt to overturn the new districts.
Clayton argues that his map gives Latino voters the opportunity to elect two Senators-one in the Watsonville-Salinas-San Jose area, and one in Merced. These two communities of interest, Clayton says, make more sense than the new Merced-Salinas district, which crosses over a mountain range.
"The courts don''t like going over mountains," Clayton says. "We built a district that has Latino voting strength, and it keeps the community together."
Clayton''s coalition configured the 12th Senate district to maintain the eco-friendly, coastal "community of interest" surrounding the Monterey Bay, running from Half Moon Bay to Carmel.
Clayton says his map does a better job of satisfying the Voting Rights Act.
"If somebody else can draw a [Latino] seat that''s stronger than that seat or equally strong, I''d like to see it," he says.
Clayton and his cohorts say the newly approved maps weaken the ability of Latinos to win elections not only locally, but also in the Central Valley, Los Angeles and the San Diego areas.
They charge the Democratic leadership with packing heavily Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County into four Senate districts when "population and [voter] registration would easily justify five majority Latino districts."
Clayton insists that all of the new state Senate lines were drawn to protect incumbents, not strengthen Latino voting power.
"It''s disgraceful what the Democratic party did," Clayton says. "They were unfriendly to the environment they were unfriendly to Latinos. They left the base of their party for incumbent protection."
Clayton says his map also puts Keeley-who had planned to run for a Senate seat-back into a Democratic Senate district, where he has represented about 60 percent of the population from his seat in the state Assembly.
But Keeley says he can''t support Clayton''s plan.
"The two principles that I''ve been fighting for have been to hold the Central Coast together-Monterey County and Santa Cruz County in a single Senate district-and to make sure that there''s not retrogression of the Latino voting strength," Keeley says. "Alan''s maps do a good job of not retrogressing. But I''m not in a position to be supporting maps that still divide Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties."
Assemblyman Simon Salinas also says he doesn''t support Clayton''s efforts.
"I supported the Senate maps already," says Salinas. "From my perspective, [the State''s map] was the best that we could come up with."
Clayton remains hopeful that the DOJ will rule in favor of his coalition.
"I''ve been a Democrat all my life and I''m outraged and ashamed of what my party''s leadership did to the Coast Latinos. The community of interest is obvious. At the end, it wasn''t something that was valued."