Skelton: L.A. needs an independent redistricting commission

The hateful, racist conversation secretly recorded among Los Angeles City Council members illustrates a reality: selfish redistribution brings out the worst in politicians.

The infamous discussion between three council members and a union leader eventually focused on how best to manipulate politicians’ districts to benefit them and their Latino allies and harm their rival colleagues.

The city of LA, including its politicians, would be much better off if it gave up the corrupt system of drawing lines for council districts. It should use a clean method similar to what the county has already created and California voters foisted on the state more than a decade ago.

County supervisory, state legislature, and US House districts are determined by independent commissions that cannot be influenced by the politicians concerned. Elected officials are prohibited from having any role in the selection of commissioners and cannot tamper with their line drawings.

There’s a movement in that direction in LA, prompted by the ugly recorded dialogue. Hopefully the move won’t stall and die when public outrage calms down.

In fact, the corrupt, newly adopted Council lines should be erased and new ones drawn for the 2024 elections.

In the city’s system, the Redistribution Commission is appointed by the council and other elected officials. And the Council approves the Commission’s final maps. So they will be changed to suit the political needs of the Council members.

“I don’t think the post-tape lines have the legitimacy they need,” City Atty said. Mike Feuer told Politico.

Fred Ali, chairman of the City Redistribution Commission, told The Times: “This should be a reminder that elected officials should not be involved in a redistribution process. It should be a standalone process. If not, you get the kind of manipulation that is reflected in these tapes.”

Ali was appointed to the commission by then-council president Nury Martinez, who spat out most of the racism and hatred in the recorded conversation and resigned under pressure last week.

“Theoretically, when drawing district lines, the interests of the governed should come first, not the interests of the governors,” says longtime LA Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, who teaches electoral law at USC.

But that is of course a utopian view. It cannot become reality if politicians are allowed to elect their voters themselves. Public interest is not on the list of priorities.

“Redistribution is the ultimate struggle for power,” Sragov continues. “In this case, it determines who gets to rule the city of LA”

In his USC lectures, Sragow likes to quote Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, who said, “Politics is war without bloodshed.”

“People don’t play nice because it’s about power,” says Sragow. “It’s just mean.”

But that doesn’t excuse mean-spirited babble of the sort that Council members have spewed or tolerated – sometimes chuckling.

“It was disgusting,” says Sragov.

Her private conspiracy a year ago to divide council wards to her advantage brought out the worst in those attending the meeting: Martinez, councilors Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, and then-President Ron Herrera of the LA County Federation of Labor.

Herrera quickly resigned after The Times published the audio on Oct. 9. Martinez followed later. De León and Cedillo stuck to that letter despite public and political pressure to stray.

Although Martinez’s mean rhetoric dominated, the others tolerated it and even chimed in with their own verbal anger.

Martinez called white councilor Mike Bonin, who is gay, a “little bitch.” His black infant son was nicknamed “little monkey” in Spanish. LA County Dist. atty George Gascon? “F- this guy. He’s with the blacks.”

Martinez derided Indigenous Oaxacans as “little, short, dark people” and called them “ugly.” It came as they discussed how to divide up Koreatown, a mostly Latino neighborhood. Martinez said placing the entire area in Councilor Nithya Raman’s district — she wanted it — “wouldn’t [be] a good thing for any of us” because it would empower them politically.

“I see what we have to do, right? Just massage to create districts that benefit you all,” Herrera said.

There has been much discussion about preserving or acquiring significant assets in predominantly Latin American counties such as USC, Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery – any established, large corporations or public entities.

Such talks are common during a ten-year redistribution. But politicians don’t care about assets that benefit the community. The facilities are already there to boost the local economy, no matter what governorate they are in.

What politicians are after are assets that can benefit them in cuddles and fundraising — maybe a few free concert tickets or, most importantly, hefty campaign donations.

“Republicans wanted country clubs in their districts as a fundraising base,” recalls Tony Quinn, a GOP redistricting adviser when the legislature drew up its own lines. “Democrats wanted every movie studio nearby so they could meet the stars for campaign funds.”

Paul Mitchell, owner of Redistricting Partners, a consulting firm that provided demographic data for the LA City Council’s redrawing of lines, says, “If you get a development building in your county, you’ll get it [campaign] Checks from this developer. If he builds in the next district, he ignores you.”

Redistribution, Mitchell adds, “has this combination of raw political power and obscurity. Few people can understand it. That is why it becomes so corrupting.”

In the hands of politicians, redistribution can be poisonous. The Kur is an independent commission. Skelton: L.A. needs an independent redistricting commission

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