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SCV's district could go blue by 2012

Posted: October 21, 2009 10:09 p.m.
Updated: October 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
If a Democrat becomes governor next year, state lawmakers could force the Santa Clarita Valley - long considered a Republican stronghold - into one of the Democratic congressional districts to its south, a political consultant said.

Former Republican legislative staffer Tony Quinn said the SCV, currently part of California's heavily conservative 25th Congressional District, could be picked off by Democrats trying to seize another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Under the scenario, the boundary lines for the 25th District would shift to the north by the 2012 election, cutting out the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.

This would completely redefine the political landscape for Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, who has had little trouble keeping his seat since he took office in 1993. McKeon could find himself trying to woo voters in a heavily Democratic congressional district.

Democrats already hold a majority in both the California Assembly and Senate.

"Under a Democratic governor, the (state lawmakers) will draw the lines the way they want. McKeon's district will simply be pushed to the north," Quinn said. "There's very little that can be done."

Bob Haueter, McKeon's field representative, said it's too early to predict what a new district would look like.

"There's going to be adjustments," he said, "but redistricting is a dance we do every 10 years."

The numbers matter

Following the United States Census survey each decade, California legislators redraw the congressional map to balance the population within each district.

State lawmakers have been worried that the new census, which won't count undocumented residents, will leave the California short one congressional district. Until those details are worked out, there is no telling how the lines will be drawn, Haueter said.

But for Quinn, the math is simple: More than 600,000 people live in the 25th Congressional District, which is 100,000 more than the minimum. Meanwhile, the 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th districts all come up short.

But like all things political, redrawing the map turns into a power grab, Quinn said.

The safely Democratic districts to the south could easily absorb the Santa Clarita Valley without putting any of those seats in jeopardy, he added.

"Those Democratic districts will spread north," he said.

Quinn should know - he worked as a Republican consultant on redistricting in the 1970s and 1980s and is co-editor of the California Target Book, the standard campaign playbook for politicians and political groups across the board.

Governor is last hope

The Santa Clarita Valley "could end up being represented by Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) or Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles)," Quinn said.

However, there's hope for SCV Republicans if Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner or any other Republican candidate wins the 2010 governor's race.

"If the Republicans win the governor's race, then there would have to be a compromise that could keep McKeon's district intact," he said.

The governor can veto any redistricting map, like Pete Wilson did in 1998 when California Democrats tried to push through new state legislative district maps.

McKeon and staff have been hard at work to elect Whitman, Haueter said.

"It is critical to put a Republican in the governor's office," Haueter said. "If the Democrats try the same thing, where they push an unfairly drawn map, hopefully Meg (Whitman) will be waiting with the veto pen."

Map could block Buck

McKeon, a founder of the city of Santa Clarita, has represented California's 25th congressional district since 1993. This year, he was appointed the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

The congressman has won several lopsided elections during his 16-year tenure. But the 2008 election revealed the first signs that Republican support in the 25th District was beginning to wane.

While McKeon won his election by more than 10 percentage points, President Barack Obama eked out a 1 percentage point win in the 25th Congressional District, according to the California Secretary of State's office.

"The district is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats now." Quinn said. "It used to be heavily Republican."
According to local Democrats, the gap between registered Republicans and Democrats is less than 3 percent.

"We're obviously trying to build a Democratic presence," said Carole Lutness, local Democratic activist. "We're quickly closing ranks."
As the Santa Clarita Valley's population has grown, Lutness said she has noticed a change in the voters living in the area.

"I do believe we have many more people in the SCV that identify with Democratic values," she said "They are becoming a more sophisticated electorate."

McKeon aides said a change in districts won't sway their candidate from running and hopefully continuing to represent the Santa Clarita Valley in Congress.

"Mr. McKeon will live in Santa Clarita, and whatever district Santa Clarita is in, Mr. McKeon will run for," Haueter said.

Lutness welcomed the news that future Democratic candidates will have a real chance to win a Congressional election and said McKeon will have to shift his message to gain favor with San Fernando or San Gabriel Valley voters.

She said: "He will have to soften his ultra right wing agenda."


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