Thursday, November 29, 2001
Fred Keeley distinctly remembers the day he found out he'd been abandoned by the leadership of his own party. "I got this Sunday call," he says, and describes the conversation that followed. "Do you have any idea what's going to come down tomorrow on those Senate lines?" the caller asked Keeley. "I think they're going to take your house and put it in Byron Sher''s district."
The house the caller spoke about is in Boulder Creek, up in the Santa Cruz mountains, 10 miles from the Monterey Bay. This is where Keeley has lived since he was a kid; from this house he waged a series of successful campaigns that eventually landed him in the California Assembly. Sen. Byron Sher's district, the 11th, is centered in Palo Alto, very near Stanford University. A long way from Boulder Creek.
Keeley didn't believe it was happening. He'd been assured there was little reconfiguring that could be done to the 15th Senate District, home of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. As Speaker Pro Tem of the Assembly, he was a rising Democrat star, clearly next in line for the 15th.
"Well, this can't be the case," he thought. "I'll find [Senate President Pro Tem] John [Burton] and make sure that's not an accurate rumor. But I got enough hummin' and hawin' from John, I finally said, ''You're not saying no, are you?''"
Burton's hummin' and hawin' signaled the end of Keeley's Senate dreams. It also wiped the Monterey Bay area off the map, politically speaking, virtually guaranteeing the area won't see a local representative in the Senate for at least 10 years--when the Senate district lines are redrawn again.
Many Sacramento-watchers speculate that Kelley was ditched because he didn't kow-tow to Burton's wishes when Burton asked him in 2000 to run for the Senate against Republican Senator Bruce McPherson. In fact, Burton had offered Keeley $1.5 million in support of the run against the moderate Santa Cruz Republican. Keeley decided to stay in the Assembly.
"I was hoping Freddie would have run last time," Burton told the Californian in a story about the redistricting. "If he had run last time, I think he could have won. But he chose to stay in the Assembly, and we hope everything will work out for the best."
Despite Burton's public snub, Keeley doesn't blame him [see accompanying interview]. Burton did not return numerous calls for comment.
The new 15th District probably screws Keeley out of his shoo-in seat. More importantly, it also splits Monterey County in two, separating Monterey and Salinas. The new 15th extends 220 miles, from Silicon Valley to northern Santa Barbara County, including all of San Luis Obispo County. It is almost certainly a Republican district.
Salinas and Salinas Valley become part of the 12th Senate District, along with all of San Benito and Merced Counties, and most of way-distant Stanislaus County.
"They've cut the Monterey Bay area into three parts, and made it part of an empire that has its center outside of this region. That certainly is too bad for Fred Keeley, but it''s really bad for this region," says Gary Patton, LandWatch Monterey County's executive director. "It really says the Monterey Bay area is no longer considered important. This whole region has lost the ability to have a state Senator, as a practical matter."
On Nov. 1, Keeley, top voting rights attorney Joaquin Avila, a group of Latino supporters and 15 and a half pounds of appeal flew to Washington D.C. in an attempt to convince the U.S. Justice Department that the Senate''s districts are, in fact, illegal.
The group argued that the new map violates the Voting Rights Act--which protects the democratic rights of minorities--by preventing the development of two strong Latino districts in the area, one in Salinas, one in Merced.
At press time, the Justice Department's decision was pending.
Weekly: You played a leadership role during the state''s efforts to deal with the energy crisis. Did that play into this predicament?
Keeley: I don''t think it played into it much except to the extent that my time and attention was completely focused on that issue. I had precious little time to spend even on my own legislation. The energy issue was taking eight, 10 hours every single day, so largely my attention was diverted. And I was receiving assurance that there was very little change could be made in the 15th Senate District. And essentially not to worry about the district, and about how it would affect me.
So while you were busy with the energy crisis this whole new map was being drawn?
Yeah, the whole backroom deal was being put together.
I think what happened [is that] we were a victim of a set of circumstances that at a certain level don''t have anything to do with the Central Coast. There was a deal made between the Republican and the Democrat leaders in the Senate, that the makeup of the Senate would stay 26 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and that the Congressional delegation in California would stay as is.
The other bookend was that there was a decision made for various reasons to try to create a Senate district for Assemblymember Dennis Cardoza. He's currently in a Republican [Senate] district. The only way to make that a Democrat district is to come west into Monterey County.
Now, as it turns out, he has decided not to run for the Senate next year--he's running for Congress instead--which adds a layer of irony to this.
Why was it so important to maintain the 26-14 balance of power within the Senate?
I've spoken with both Senator Brulte [the Republican leader] and Senator [John] Burton repeatedly, at length, about this issue. And my assessment of their view of things, I want to underline my assessment, is that from the perspective of Senator Brulte, the deal is worth making. On the surface of it, you may say, why would the Republican leader of the Senate agree to lock his party into minority status? The answer is, number one, Republicans in the Senate continue to be relevant so long as Democrats don't have 27 votes. Because 27 votes is two-thirds of a 40-member Senate. If either party has two-thirds vote, they don''t have to deal with the other party when it comes to adopting a budget, or adopting legislation that has an urgency clause in it. Essentially all the important actions take two-thirds majority votes.
So the Republican leader, with Democrats in 26 seats, is still relevant and has to be dealt with. Admittedly, he''s marginal, but he''s still relevant.
The second reason is that Senator Brulte is, in many people's view, President Bush's top political operative in California. If Senator Brulte locked down the existing split, he can assure the president that in the mid-term election, the president won't lose the House over anything that happens in California. So for those two reasons the Republican leader wants that deal.
Now why would the Democrat leader make that deal? He wants to avoid having the deal tossed to the voters. The Democrats don''t want the Republicans to say, okay, you''re over-reaching here, we''re going to subject your maps to a referendum, and we''re also going to subject you to an initiative and put our [Republican] maps on a statewide ballot. Now the Democrat leader has to spend millions of dollars to try to defeat that, and he might not defeat it.
So that's the Democrat leader's motivation to get the deal done and locked down: so there's no referendum. The Republican's motivation is to assure the President that he won't lose the House because of California.
In the meantime, there was a need to make a seat for Cardoza. Why?
Well, as the story goes, Dennis [Cardoza] and I came to the Assembly at the same time and we're leaving at the same time. At the end of next year, we'll both be termed out of the Assembly. There was no "soft landing" for him electorally. There was a member of Congress who had been there for a long time, and it looked like he was going to be there for a long time. Except, of course, that member of Congress is Gary Condit.
And as events unfolded, and things got more complicated for Congressmember Condit, and after the redistricting bill was passed, Assemblymember Cardoza decided to run for Congress instead.
Now, why him? Dennis was and is the closest political ally and friend of our current [Assembly] speaker. The Senate wanted to be sure that when the Senate redistricting bill came over to the Assembly, it would get a two-thirds vote, and as the story goes, they went to a member of the Assembly, and asked, "how can we get a two-thirds vote?" The answer was: "make sure Dennis has a Senate seat." If that's true, then that''s how we in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties found ourselves at Ground Zero in redistricting.
Did the Senate and Assembly Democrats sacrifice you for the sake of incumbents?
[One] way to answer your question is to say that I know for a fact that, for all of the talk about how redistricting is supposed to respect "communities of interest," public testimony and public record was completely ignored by the Senate.
I submitted, together with a number of other people, 15 and a half pounds of appeals to the U.S. Justice Department, and contained in that appeal are hundreds and hundreds pages of transcripts of the Senate hearings involving the Central Coast, in which every single person who testified--Republican, Democrat, it didn''t matter--said "hold the Central Coast together." Not one word, not one letter, not one fax, not one email, not one sentence uttered by anyone said, "Gee, why don''t you figure out a way to break up Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties?"
What's your relationship with John Burton?
As long as we don't talk about redistricting, it's very, very good. John and I share very similar political values, and I have a great deal of respect for the Senator in terms of his commitment to social justice, higher education, environmental protection. John and I have very similar views about things and very different styles of how we go about it. He's, shall we say, a little bombastic.
But when we're working on policy matters--for example, the park and environmental protection bond would not have happened without John's leadership on the Senate side. No question about it. So even while we were in a battle over redistricting issues, so long as we keep our discussions about policy issues, we get along fine.
I''m not saying I''m not mindful of it, or every time I see him I don''t think about this, because I do.
So what do you make of his comments saying, in effect, you blew your chance in 2000?
He and I have had lengthy discussions about that comment, and I have shared with him my displeasure with that comment being made in print, because I know it's not true. I know it's not what John believes, and it's not true.
Senator Burton did encourage me to run against Senator McPherson for the Senate in 2000. And the Senator was willing to put $1.5 million dollars of the campaign fund that he controls in the Senate into my campaign if I would have run against Senator McPherson last year.
I gave it some thought, and I did not want to do that. And I conveyed it to John. The reason I know that what John said publicly is not true is this: When I told John I was not going to run, I told him why. John, who has a mercurial personality, a flamboyant personality, doesn't hide his emotions very well, and we had a very rational conversation. And during the rest of the year, at no point did I get the cold shoulder, did my bills get tubed in the Senate.
I'm a leader in the Assembly, whether it is on the Quackenbush issues, or the environment, I get treated with respect, and I get treated that way by the Senate. So what I think happened, frankly, John needed an excuse.
Why did you turn Burton down in 2000?
Three reasons. Number one, in 1999, I had been appointed Speaker Pro Tem. I was deeply involved in several issues from a leadership perspective, mostly in the environmental area. To make a decision to run for the Senate at that time against a sitting incumbent, and a popular one, would have meant that I would have to give up my leadership position, and by and large, give up being a legislator for being a candidate. I wouldn't be doing much legislating, what I would mostly be doing is campaigning.
Secondly, my wife and I had lengthy discussions about it--I would love to serve in the Senate, but was this the right time? Senator McPherson and I have a very positive working relationship and we have a friendship that goes back well before I was in the Assembly, and well before he was in the Legislature.
He's a Republican, I''m a Democrat, but first and foremost the Senator and I are friends. I told John in these words: there's more to life for me than crawling over the bodies of good people to get ahead.
The third reason, it looked to me that I could serve six years in the Assembly, have two years to campaign for the Senate, and return to the Senate for eight years. That made all the sense in the world to me, and it seemed to make sense to one heck of a lot of other people on the Central Coast.
Now that's changed a bit.
Shall we say.
What do the new lines mean for the Central Coast?
What I think this does, I don't know that it makes it impossible for someone from Santa Cruz or Monterey counties, but that candidate would have to be very strong and very lucky to get elected. The reason is when Santa Cruz and Monterey counties are together in the Senate district, then they are the dog. What's happened now is that we're the tail.
And not only are we the tail, we're the tail on three separate dogs. There's a dog over in San Joaquin Valley, there's a dog down in San Luis Obispo county, and there's a dog up in Santa Clara/San Mateo County, and we''re the tail on all those dogs. That's not a good position for the Central Coast to be in.
How will the new districts affect higher education?
One of the major trends now in higher education is collaborative [approach] between the three legs of higher education. As decisions about that are being made, all of the sudden the collaborative efforts between UCSC, CSUMB, Cabrillo and MPC are less able to have focus and attention and a bright light on them.
The ag community?
All of a sudden, the San Joaquin Valley, which has a very different agricultural orientation, much more of an orientation towards cotton, towards fruit trees, all of a sudden the very important specialty crops, the salad bowl kind of crops of the Central Valley of Salinas and the Pajaro Valley, become sort of a quaint little side show, but they are not the center of attention. So when decisions are being made of an agricultural nature, they don't get the attention and the loud voice that they need.
The Monterey National Marine Sanctuary, all of the issues around the protection of the sanctuary, and the implementation of the sanctuary's policy objectives, really do cry out for a Central-Coast unified voice. By making Santa Cruz and Monterey counties the tails on these various dogs means it can''t help but be a lower priority to focus in on the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary than it is now. A Senator from the San Francisco Peninsula, or the San Joaquin Valley, or Santa Maria has larger constituencies that make up a bigger portion of their Senate district than Monterey or Santa Cruz County will.
The Latino community?
With the Latino community it's even more profound, and also more obvious. In Monterey County, it is absolutely clear how sophisticated and effective the Latino community is. Just a few years ago you had one [Latino] city council member, maybe one school board member, nobody on the board of supervisors, certainly nobody in the Legislature. Now you've got multiple Latino members of school boards, members of city councils, board of supervisors, and you have a Latino state Assemblymember.
You go over to Merced County--Merced County today in terms of the Latino community is probably 10 or 15 years behind where the [Monterey] Latino community is in terms of political perspective, organizing effectiveness and so on.
And now, the very sophisticated, effective and evolving Latino community force in Monterey County and Santa Cruz County is going to be divided, weakened and muted. That''s terrible for the very rapidly growing Latino population, whether it''s on the issue of farmworker health, or migrant education, or affordable housing, or any of the range of issues.
Do the new districts violate the Voting Rights Act?
And how's that?
The test under the law in the Voting Rights Act is whether or not the new lines result in "retrogression." It is our view, not just mine, but all of us who filed the appeal to the Justice Department, that it is true on the face of it that this results in retrogression for the Latino community--as a percentage of the population of the 15th Senate District, the Latino community is significantly reduced.
And then there are a series of tests under Section Two and Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. We don''t believe the newly drawn lines pass any of the tests. We''re not just whining complainers, we''re not just saying, "Gee, we didn't get our way so we're going to overturn this apple cart." We don't believe it's legal, and it's not some technical, little, marginal legal issue. The legal issues have profound moral implications.
Why did the leadership draw your home into a district that at the very least will be a huge challenge to win?
To use the dog analogy, there was a bone being thrown.
How far will you take this challenge?
Well, I've taken it pretty far already, which is to say the moment those maps came out, which were a shock to me, I spent all Labor Day weekend trying to organize people on the Central Coast. At the expense of my Assembly campaign, I paid for full-page newspaper ads and did a lot of organizing all over the Central Coast. At my expense I hired Joaquin Avila, arguably the best legal mind in the country on voting-rights issues, and he''s been enormously helpful to us. At my expense, we went back to Washington D.C. with a good strong team of people to argue our case.
I have spared no expense and expended an enormous amount of political capital to fight for what I believe is the right thing to do for the Central Coast.
Is there anything else we should talk about here?
A couple of things. One is, I literally can't go anywhere without people coming up to me--and the way they approach this subject is "Boy, did we get screwed," to "Boy did you get screwed." People are mad about it, and it''s not just Democrats. I get it across the board.
I think people get it. If you're a Republican, what you understand is okay, after 2004, there''s no Bruce McPherson, there's no moderate Republican from the Central Coast that can get elected to the Senate. There's some Republican from Santa Maria, or there's some Democrat from Foster City, but it''s not one of our guys or gals.
The Republicans in this area are pretty moderate folk, they are like Bruce McPherson. They support environmental protection, a lot of them are pro-choice and so on, so they're upset.
If the Justice Department doesn't rule in our favor, I think it's important for people in the Central Coast to have the right emotional reaction as well as political [reaction].
I think it's perfectly fine to be hurt or angry about this. But people should keep from becoming bitter or cynical. In my own case, I have a very soft heart, and I like that about myself. I am a serious softy when it comes to a lot of things and I'm not going to let this change that. I'm 51 years old, I want to continue to do things for California that I think are important things to work on, and I can't do that if I am bitter or cynical.
The message I would hope to leave people with on this is to allow this to be an experience--whatever the outcome is--that really does make you stronger, and more invested in the process and more committed to public life and public policy.