Stanislaus County voters don’t deserve to be lumped with Santa Cruz or Fresno

Source: THE MODESTO BEE EDITORIAL BOARD

Some boundaries proposed for future political districts in California are outrageously insulting to Stanislaus County.

Once-a-decade redistricting proposals at this point are only lines on a map representing someone’s idea for new state and congressional districts in California. But proposals will begin to solidify next month, so now is the time to throw shade on the foolish ideas while propping up those that make good sense.

In brief, proposals that maximize Stanislaus’ political clout in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C. are preferred. That usually means districts encompassing the entire county or much of it, and uniting us with like-minded neighbors.

The worst proposals separate Stanislaus County, dividing us in two or more Senate or Assembly districts. Often this means grabbing just a portion of our people and sticking them with other regions that share few common interests with us.

Among the more ludicrous pitches:

  • Combining part of Stanislaus with portions of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties in a district stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean
  • Putting Oakdale and Riverbank with much of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, west of Stockton
  • Shoving Modesto, Ceres and Turlock in with parts of Merced, Fresno and Kings counties
  • Drawing Oakdale into mountain communities stretching north through eight different counties all the way past Lake Tahoe

Voting rights laws generally favor keeping intact so-called communities of interest. The laughable examples above leave one wondering what someone in Modesto has in common with a Santa Cruz voter. Most people here don’t even know anyone in faraway Kings County; why should we vote alongside them?

Here is the real danger: Suppose a politician in Morgan Hill or Hanford gets elected to represent a district stretching all the way to Modesto, then is faced with a decision with very different outcomes for those two distant cities. Where does her loyalty lie?

For instance, Stanislaus interests in water policy are very different — diametrically opposed, in some instances — with those in the delta and southern stretches of the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno and Kings counties. A representative should not have to choose which end of his district to please at the expense of the other.

Ideally, we want to be represented by our own. Not many years ago, we mostly were — with Anthony Cannella and Tom Berryhill in the Senate and Kristin Olsen in the Assembly. Homegrown leaders, all.

 Incredibly, these days — with our county split into three Senate and two Assembly districts — not one of five politicians representing Stanislaus County resides here. None.

Senators Anna Caballero, Susan Talamantes Eggman and Andreas Borgeas respectively live in Salinas, Stockton and Fresno, and Assemblymen Heath Flora and Adam Gray respectively live in Ripon and Merced. We sincerely appreciate their service. But it sure would be nice to have one of us looking out for our needs in Sacramento.

“It was too good to be true (before). Now it’s too bad to be true,” mused Vito Chiesa, chairman of the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors.

STANISLAUS LACKS HIGH-LEVEL LEADERSHIP

On both state and federal levels, only U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, a Turlock Democrat, lives here in Stanislaus County, when Congress is not in session. Because Republicans would love to see him go, some recently floated a map proposal with new congressional boundaries lopping left-leaning Tracy and Manteca from the District 10 core, while adding conservative farming swaths to the north, taking in Linden and Lodi while deftly avoiding progressive Stockton. That’s the essence of gerrymandering — cynically drawing nonsensical boundaries to advance a political goal.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is supposed to avoid such political games. Its creation years ago was universally applauded because new boundaries would be chosen every decade after the Census by independent people in open meetings — not by self-serving politicians doing backroom deals.

The same redrawing of boundaries is going on in cities, counties, school districts and irrigation districts everywhere. Because all are much smaller, their proposals should be less drastic and much less controversial than state and congressional districts.

The commission has a Republican from Tracy and a Democrat from Stockton — both in San Joaquin County — and no one else from the entire San Joaquin Valley. Everyone expects San Joaquin County to be kept whole when new boundaries are produced in coming weeks.

Recognizing danger, Stanislaus County supervisors on Tuesday are expected to consider a resolution calling attention to the likelihood that we’ll once again get the short end of the political stick.

Confining a single Senate or Assembly district to Stanislaus County is a pipe dream, because we don’t have enough voters to warrant a single district. Because joining with other areas is our reality, the best solution is combining with like-minded neighbors.

To our north, Ripon and Escalon may both be just over the Stanislaus River in San Joaquin County, but they are close in geography, economics and spirit. Their farmwater provider, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, shares water rights with its partner, the Oakdale Irrigation District, and both deserve unified, joint representation in Sacramento.

To our south, Merced County has much in common with Stanislaus. Like the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, the Merced Irrigation District is fighting with state agencies to retain precious water rights, and Gray has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in representing both counties. Keeping together Stanislaus and Merced, or parts of each, makes sense for both.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

People interested in our political future need not sit back and watch county leaders go to bat. Voters can and should add their voices to the cause of keeping Stanislaus County intact, by approaching the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Send electronic comments to VotersFirstAct@crc.ca.gov or mail to 721 Capitol Mall, Suite 260, Sacramento, CA 95814. Study proposals, many of which can be found at wedrawthelinesca.org/10_13_21_handouts. Try drawing your own map using an online tool at DrawMyCACommunity.org. See the schedule for almost-daily meetings at wedrawthelinesca.org/meetings, and follow links to watch them live.

“It might be frustrating to people watching this process, but we’re trying to be responsive,” commission chairwoman Sara Sadhwani said Thursday in a telephone interview.

The map proposals ridiculed in this editorial are among 500 being considered. Commissioners expect to put forth short-list proposals about Nov. 10, Sadhwani said, followed by deliberation in earnest and final approval about Dec. 20 and no later than Dec. 27.

“This,” Sadhwani said, “is definitely the time for community testimony.”