Most LGBT Californians have no idea how the wonky earthquake called redistricting is about to impact their lives. An appointed California Citizens Redistricting Commission finalized maps on Aug. 15 that shifted the political landscape by redrawing boundaries for the state Assembly, Senate and Congressional Districts for the next decade—setting up some possibly ugly Democratic family election feuds next year, including a mini-civil war between supporters of LGBT candidates and LGBT allies.
But right now, many LGBT politicos are focused on the Nov. 8 election to fill the Los Angeles City Council seat left vacant when Janice Hahn won her 36th Congressional District seat in a special election. Pro-gay labor-favorite Warren Furutani, who represents 30 percent of the district in the state Assembly, seems to have the edge in the City Council race. But thanks to redistricting, Hahn, who lives in San Pedro, will seek re-election in the new 44th District.
“Because of the new redistricting, the district I currently represent will no longer exist in 2012,” Hahn said. “I plan to run for California’s new 44th Congressional District because I live in it. I know many of these communities and I understand the issues that affect them.”
The new 44th—which goes north from San Pedro to Lynwood and includes Watts, Wilmington, Carson, South Gate, Compton, Willowbrook, Walnut Park and parts of Long Beach—is considered one of three areas designated as an African-American district. Democrat Rep. Laura Richardson, a popular African-American from the now more Republican Long Beach 47th District, is also running in the 44th, as is another African-American, Assemblymember Isadore Hall of Compton. Hahn’s family legacy of supporting African-Americans may not be enough to win.
The other expected congressional slugfest is in the Valley with longtime incumbent Rep. Howard Berman, who lives in Valley Village, and Rep. Brad Sherman, who lives in Sherman Oaks, now both living in the same 30th Congressional District. Apparently some Democrats want Berman to run in the new 29th Congressional District— except that area was specifically carved out to be a Latino seat and L.A. Councilmember Tony Cardenas has already announced his run. Berman friends want Sherman to stand down and other Democrats want Cardenas to wait his turn. But Cardenas may not feel he has to wait his turn for anyone. Having in 1996 been the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley in the state Legislature, he now wants to be the first Latino to serve that Valley District in Congress.
But the anticipated volcanic explosions may be halted mid-eruption if any of the challenges to redistricting are upheld. On Aug. 15, just as the maps were finalized, Republicans announced their intention to try to invalidate many of the new districts. Of particular concern is GOP fear that the lines skew to Democrats, which already hold the Assembly and Senate and are aiming for the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes.
Though the Redistricting Commission was evenly split between five Democrats and five Republicans with four members unaffiliated, California GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro characterized the approved boundaries as “unfair if not unconstitutional,” L.A. Times reported.
The Times also reported that a referendum drive to overturn the state lines is underway, led by state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and Orange County businesswoman Julie Vandermost, who have organized a group called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting, according to Republican consultant Dave Gilliard.
Apparently lots of people want to be FAIR. GOP FAIR supporters are trying to gather 504,000 signatures to qualify their referendum for the ballot. Ironically, AIDS Healthcare Foundation also recently announced that they have launched a signature-gather petition to place their initiative on the ballot to mandate that porn stars shooting adult films in L.A. County wear condoms. Their slogan is FAIR, too: For Adult Industry Responsibility. Meanwhile, though there is little evidence of this yet, according to Equality California volunteers associated with Stop SB 48 and the anti-gay Capitol Resources Institute are trying to collect signatures for a referendum on the June 2012 ballot to overturn the California FAIR Education Act.
If the Republicans succeed in placing a referendum on the ballot, the Redistricting Commission’s plan would be suspended and the California Supreme Court would determine districts for the 2012 election, the Times reports.
“The idea that the court would disregard the 500,000-plus citizens’ signatures to leave in place a plan approved by 14 citizens—no one I know thinks that’s a likely outcome,” former Republican state legislator Jim Brulte told the Times. But reapportionment expert Bruce Cain said such a referendum is unlikely to pass.
Meanwhile, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund might take the commission to court.
“We are looking at compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz, noting that the federal law protects minorities against having their voting strength diluted. Saenz told the Times that not enough new Latino-majority districts were created. Saenz also said MALDEF may bypass the California Supreme Court, which offered to expedite hearings for legal challenges, and file directly in federal court which could result in a preliminary injunction against the plans taking effect.
In L.A., Latinos are also upset that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Advisory Commission failed to create a second Latino-majority supervisorial district in their recommended map presented to the five supervisors. Apparently Latinos are currently about half of L.A. County’s population. MALDEF believes that the failure to create a second Latino-majority district may have violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
LGBTs are not recognized in the federal Voting Rights Act, but for the first time, the idea of carving out an LGBT-specific district surfaced as the commission deliberated.
Openly gay Assembly candidate Luis Lopez refused to elaborate on his race because of the legal confusion over the lines but agreed that his district was historically LGBT.
“Like everyone else, I’ll be watching closely,” Lopez told Frontiers. “It’s unclear whether lawsuits will go anywhere. What is clear is that I’m personally grounded in the communities of Northeast L.A. and East L.A. where I was born and where I’ve demonstrated leadership in service to my neighbors and fellow residents for several years.”
Lopez, a Sunset Junction/Silver Lake resident, noted that his new 51st Assembly District has LGBT history and a number of highly popular LGBT locations within its boundaries: portions of Silver Lake, Echo Park, Mt. Washington, Eagle Rock, Highland Park—and the famous former Black Cat Bar, site of the first major LGBT riot against police in 1967. Unfortunately, Sunset Junction has apparently been divided up into two historic LGBT sites—with zig-zagging lines that place the Black Cat in one district and the also famous Circus of Books in another.
Openly gay Laurette Healey, an economic and workforce development director who once served as California Deputy State Controller, is running for the new 46th Assembly District. Though she only recently announced, she’s already received the endorsement of L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, whose district encompasses the southern portion of the new AD 46, and West Hollywood Mayor Pro-Tempore Jeffrey Prang, who recently withdrew as a candidate in the 50th AD. Healey has lived in the Sherman Oaks area since 1991. She expects to face challenges from Democratic Party activist and longtime straight ally Andrew Lachman, who now lives in Culver City, and from Brian Johnson, who lives in the Hollywood Hills—both of whom declared in the former AD 42, now served by Assemblymember Mike Feuer, who is termed out. That district, which includes West Hollywood, is now part of the new 50th District, for which Assembly incumbent and longtime straight ally Betsy Butler is running. Rather than challenge the incumbent, Prang dropped out and both Lachman and Johnson apparently intend to move.
Healey points out that her new 46th AD, which also encompasses Studio City and Valley Village, has 4 percent registered same-sex domestic partners and is almost 52 percent women voters, a plus as she’s the only woman in the race. She thinks her district is a natural LGBT district, too.
But Torie Osborn, the longtime LGBT activist and nonprofit leader based in Santa Monica who is running in the new 50th District, says that Redistricting Commission actually discussed unofficially designating the district as LGBT. The 50th District runs from the coastal areas of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades and Malibu inland to Agoura Hills and Topanga; across the mountains to Brentwood, Bel Air and Beverly Hills; through L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire area, from Carthay Square to Hancock Park and up through portions of Hollywood and all of West Hollywood.
Osborn’s friend Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of the Community Coalition, a community-based organization in South Los Angeles and a member of the African-American Redistricting Collaborative, adds that the commission thought the district was leaning LGBT.
“Folks submitted letters about keeping the ‘LGBT COI (Communities of Interest)’ together so that their vote would have more impact,” Harris-Dawson told Frontiers. “Generally speaking, people of color organized around the census supported that position. Some commissioners talked openly (and favorably) on the record about the district being drawn in a way that was welcoming to LGBT candidates and issues.”
Osborn thinks she’s a natural fit because of her long residency, her long years of activism and the two districts that now make up the 50th AD have a history of sending strong leaders for change to Sacramento.
“The reason I’m running is because I feel this is a line-in-the-sand moment,” Osborn told Frontiers. “The California Dream is on life-support and needs leadership that’s as strong as possible. And this district has a history of sending real champions for change ... and I believe I am in that tradition, with my years of advocacy and my connections.”
But while so many with whom Frontiers has spoken praise Osborn and her leadership skills, they are also concerned about what message running against longtime straight ally and incumbent Betsy Butler would send to other straight allies who are needed in the movement for LGBT equality. For instance, a recent report by the Movement Advancement Project noted that of the estimated 8.7 million LGBT adults in the U.S. (according to the Williams Institute), only 3.4 percent actually contributed financially to LGBT causes—meaning 96.5 percent of LGBT adults did not donate to LGBT organizations or causes.
As Frontiers previously reported, Prang dropped out of what could have been an even more difficult three-way race because of his strong belief in supporting openly gay Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez defend incumbents and secure a two-thirds Democratic majority. Perez and Prang support Butler.
In an awkward headline, L.A. Weekly summed up one way of looking at the race: “Assembly Candidate Torie Osborn Enlists Gay Activists In Fight Against Gay Speaker John Perez.”
“The Speaker has chosen to declare his allegiance to his current members,” said former Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who is backing Osborn, told Weekly. “He has been, I think, very proud that the LGBT caucus is as big as it is. I would wish he would think about that in his allegiances."
The fight also prompted some to imagine a proxy fight between Perez and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who strongly supports Osborn. “There’s nobody that could pit me against John Perez. He’s my family, he’s my first cousin,” Villaraigosa told Frontiers. “I love him and my support for Torie Osborn has nothing to do with my love for John Perez. I go way back with her and I believe in her and she’s a woman who’s got almost a 40-some-odd-year history as an activist and a civil rights leader and I think we need Torie Osborn in the Legislature right now.”
Asked if he was the Assembly Speaker, as he once was, would Villaraigosa also protect incumbents as Perez is doing now? Villaraigosa laughed and said, “I’m not Speaker any more.”
Openly gay L.A. City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Westside, is also a strong Osborn supporter. Additionally, his deputy Mike Bonin worked with Osborn on creating the Camp Courage leadership training events after Prop. 8 passed.
“Torie is a fearless fighter for positive change, for social justice and for progressive values,” Rosendahl said in his official endorsement, noting that Osborn has lived in the area for 25 years. “She shares the concerns of her neighbors in this district and she will fight for what they want: a clean environment, quality education and healthcare, a strong safety net and job creation.”
But others, including straight allies, see the overarching issue of protecting incumbent straight allies as critical.
“It’s not a race that a lot of people are looking forward to,” L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who once represented the area in the Assembly, told Frontiers. “It’s no reflection on Torie. I suspect that if not now, at some point in the near future, I expect to see her in the state Legislature and she’ll do a great job whenever she gets there. But someone like Betsy Butler, who I worked hard to help elect initially and has done great things for the environment and is very supportive of the LGBT community, very active in support of consumers—it’s hard to say the job she’s done isn’t good enough, let’s kick her out. It’s just unfortunate that reapportionment was as screwy as it is this year. And it’s pitting some people against each other that nobody really wants to see.”
L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, another longtime straight ally, has a call into Perez to help settle what could be a possible ugly confrontation.
“I had endorsed both of them before they were thrown together so I’m talking to both of them,” Garcetti told Frontiers. “I really hope that they can resolve this so we don’t have two progressives, two pro-civil rights people, two amazing women suddenly turned against each other. Our money is better spent saving a coastal district than having friend turn against friend. And some people I know who are Torie’s closest friends who are going to do the biggest fundraisers for her, won’t do it against an incumbent. And vice versa. I know some Betsy Butler longtime fans who are saying, well, I really want to support Torie.
“Four years—you know there are a lot of opportunities so it’s not just about this race,” Garcetti continued. “I have no question in my mind Torie would be the most extraordinary legislator, maybe a future Speaker and could probably hit the ground running with as much experience as any freshman has ever had. But Betsy has been a friend of this community and a friend of progressivism in the state so I’m hopefully one of those voices to say, ‘Ladies, can we figure this out so we don’t have to choose between you?”
For her part, Butler, like Lopez, is remaining somewhat reticent until the legal issues are settled. But she reminded Frontiers that she has been an LGBT ally since her work on the Clinton campaign in 1991. In fact, she was on the stage with Dr. Scott Hitt, David Mixner and many others from ANGLE during presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s historic passionate speech about AIDS and the imperative of including gays in society. Butler is a longtime friend of West Hollywood Mayor John Duran, who endorsed her, and served on the board of Equality California, raising thousands of dollars for the No on Prop. 8 campaign, during which time Osborn was working on behalf of the Obama campaign.
“If the lines stay as they are now and don’t change, I will be moving to the 50th District,” Butler told Frontiers, adding that she already has about 7,800 constituents in the new district. But right now she is focused on getting her consumer protection bill banning the toxic substance bisphenol A (or BPA) to the Senate floor. She’s running for re-election because “there is still a lot of work to do on consumer rights and consumer protections, marriage equality and producing green jobs. Until all those items are fully met, I have a lot of work to do.” She also notes that while she may not live in Santa Monica like Osborn, she exercises, shops, eats and sees movies there. “I’ve been all over the district because it’s adjacent to my district—it’s part of the Westside of Los Angeles.”
The race poses a headache not only for straight allies but the LGBT community as well.
“Speaker Perez is doing exactly what a speaker should be doing—supporting his current members until given a reason not to. There are many good candidates asked to step aside in the interest of the party—the race for the 50th is nothing new,” Nii-Quartelai Quartley, political vice president of Stonewall Democratic Club told Frontiers. “Stonewall Democratic Club has a thorough endorsement process in place that will support the strongest LGBT or non-LGBT candidate period. Being LGBT doesn’t equal an automatic endorsement, just as being African-American or first-generation American such as myself doesn’t guarantee my vote or support. Our politics must be the sum of many parts.”
The race may prove a bit more difficult for Equality California. Before he was appointed executive director, Roland Palencia endorsed Osborn and contributed $500 to her campaign. As Frontiers went to press, Palencia had not responded to whether he would officially recuse himself from EQCA’s endorsement process.
However, Mario Guerrero, EQCA’s government affairs director, said: “the process is that PAC committee members interview candidates, put forth a recommendation of endorsement to the full board who then gets a chance to weigh in. As [executive director], Roland is not a voting member in any part of this process.”
The hitch is that EQCA has had a strong policy in place to support incumbents who are 100 percent on LGBT issues, as long as there are no other problems.
When he was executive director, Geoff Kors explained the policy thusly: “EQCA only endorses candidates who support our mission 100 percent of the time—and if they remain 100 percent we stand with them as they move up in their careers. The policy was created in 2004 to make it clear to folks in the Legislature and statewide office that we would have their backs if they voted and stood up for LGBT issues 100 percent of the time. And for true leaders on our issues, we would become strong partners throughout their careers. Once elected, if they were a 100 percent vote and we endorsed them before, they would be endorsed again automatically even if they were running for a different seat. The reason is so those in office can be held accountable and so they know standing with us would mean we would stand with them. This has been critical in helping us achieve our goals.”
That was then, this is now. “We were reviewing our endorsement policies given major changes with open primaries, redistricting, ongoing term limits. We periodically revisit our policies,” Guerrero said, without explaining how the major electoral changes impacted EQCA’s policy. “Finally, our current endorsement policy is more than a singular policy of supporting an incumbent. We also look at viability, if the candidate is LGBT, if the candidate scores 100 percent on our questionnaire, etc. I did not say that a specific part of our policy was under review. ... I said our policies are under review.”