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California Hispanics Moving Inland Means Safe Seats in Jeopardy

For Douglas Johnson, the number six says it all. That was how many California Hispanics were in Congress in 2000, accounting for 11 percent of 53 U.S. House seats, and that’s how many are there today.

“There was a bipartisan effort to keep all the incumbents safe and the emerging populations quiet,” said Johnson, a Rose Institute of State and Local Government fellow at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “And it worked.”

It may be different in the next Congress. Voters in November took the job of redistricting away from politicians and gave it to a citizen panel, meaning lawmakers in 2012 will have to compete in constituencies not designed to keep them in office. The state didn’t grow enough between 2000 and 2010 to earn another House seat, so some districts may have to be consolidated to accommodate population shifts.

The most sweeping gains in census data released yesterday - - by Hispanics and Asians, and by counties far from the Pacific Ocean -- may send political power eastward.

“Latinos are moving into the suburbs,” said Tony Quinn, an editor of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan political guide. “It’s going to affect Republican seats that have been safe for a decade.”

While California added people at a slightly faster pace than the nation between 2000 and 2010, its 10 percent growth rate was the lowest in the state’s history. The population increased to 37,253,956 from 33,871,648.

Majority Minority

Non-Hispanic Asians were the fastest-expanding group, rising 30.9 percent to 4,775,070, or 12.8 percent of all residents, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Hispanic population climbed 27.8 percent to 14,013,719, or 37.6 percent of the total. Non-Hispanic whites declined 5.4 percent to 14,956,253, or 40.1 percent, as blacks fell 0.8 percent to 2,163,804, or 5.8 percent.

While the counties that gained the most people between 2000 and 2010 have traditionally voted Republican, the groups that advanced the fastest are typically Democrats, Johnson said. The census found 27 majority minority counties -- with Hispanics, Asians and blacks outnumbering whites -- up from 18 in 2000.

Because of such demographic shifts, and the new method for drawing electoral maps, Johnson said that California “will see five to 10 members of the congressional delegation retired.”

Driveway U-Hauls

The shapes of California’s 120 state legislative and 53 congressional districts won’t be known until the Citizens Redistricting Commission completes its blueprint on Aug. 15.

California has 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the House; 40 of them are white, six are Hispanic, four are black and three are Asian. The two U.S. senators are white Democrats.

“Our population has shifted, our representation has not,” said Tony Mendoza, a Democratic state assemblyman from Artesia, in Los Angeles County, and head of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “We’re going to see more representation by folks who haven’t traditionally been elected.”

With a new map coming, Mendoza said the joke in the capitol in Sacramento is that “everyone’s got a U-Haul parked in their driveway” because they may have to move to be re-elected.

Another change is in store for 2012, when Californians will vote in open primaries. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will then move on to the general election.

Fastest Growing

Ballot initiatives in 2008 and 2010 gave the redistricting task to the commission, five Democrats, five Republicans and four people not affiliated with either party. Boundaries can’t be set based on where incumbents live or to benefit them.

The 10 fastest-growing counties in the state are at least 40 miles (63 kilometers) from the coast.

Among them are Placer, which includes the Squaw Valley ski resort and extends to Nevada and increased 40.3 percent to 348,432; and Imperial, a farming center that borders Arizona and Mexico and rose 22.6 percent to 174,528.

The most rapid expansion was in Riverside County in Southern California, which rose 41.7 percent to 2,189,641 in 2010, from 1,545,387 in 2000. Stretching from Orange County to the Colorado River, it attracted people looking for low-cost housing and work in construction, distribution and manufacturing, said John Husing, an economic forecaster in Redlands, California.

He said about 42 percent of the 660,000 new California jobs created between 2000 and 2007 were in what’s known as the Inland Empire, which consists primarily of Riverside and San Bernardino counties. “All the available dirt is inland,” Husing said.

Empire Power

Riverside County’s white population dropped to 39.7 percent from 51 percent, the census numbers released yesterday show.

Republicans represented 41.9 percent of the county’s 857,000 registered voters in October 2010, down from 47 percent in 2000, according to the California Secretary of State’s website. Registered Democrats held steady at 36 percent.

California’s fastest-growing big city, according to the census, was Fontana in neighboring San Bernardino County; the data show it rose 52.1 percent, to 196,069 in 2010 from 128,929 in 2000.

“The Inland Empire has been ignored by the state and federal government,” said Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren. “They’re going to start viewing us more as a contender.”

Warren was on the cusp of a trend when she moved from South Central Los Angeles to the former steel town after the 1992 riots. She’s an example of what a mixed political bag California can be. A Democrat until she was 27, Warren, now 53, is a Republican, and Fontana’s first black mayor.

Silicon Slowdown

While inland counties boomed, the census found slower growth along the coast, and that could mean the consolidation of congressional districts, the Rose Institute’s Johnson said.

In the 10-county San Francisco Bay area, the number of residents grew 5.3 percent, going to 7,413,121 from 7,039,362. In Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County, home to Google Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Facebook Inc., the population rose 5.9 percent to 1,781,642.

“Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier may have to run against each other” in a Democratic primary, said Jon Fleischman, a Republican political consultant in Irvine. Pelosi, from San Francisco, is the House minority leader, and Speier, whose district is mostly in neighboring San Mateo County, sits on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

When the last electoral plan was drafted in 2001 by state legislators, incumbents were favored, according to Garry South, at the time an adviser to Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat.

The result looked like a jigsaw puzzle. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger singled out the 23rd congressional district, a strip that runs for 200 miles along the coast and at one juncture is less than a mile wide, calling it the “ribbon of shame.” The 23rd’s representative, Democrat Lois Capps, is “happy to run for whichever district she is presented with,” according to her spokeswoman, Ashley Schapitl.

Southern California Republicans in gerrymandered districts could face more competition in 2012, according to the California Target Book’s Quinn. He cited as an example David Dreier, the Republican chairman of the House Rules Committee, who represents a territory that snakes for 83 miles around the San Gabriel Mountains to include wealthy foothill communities and exclude others down below.

“If these seats are fairly drawn, Dreier wouldn’t be in Congress,” said South, the former Democratic adviser. Dreier’s spokeswoman, Jo Maney, didn’t return phone calls and e-mails.

About 44 percent of California’s 17.2 million registered voters are Democrats, and 31 percent are Republicans, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Nearly two-thirds of likely Latino voters are registered as Democrats, according to a September report from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco. Asians are also more likely to register as Democrats than Republicans, by 46 percent to 27 percent, the report said.

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