House Republicans’ ire over remap plan trumps his agenda for state
WASHINGTON – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blew through Washington on Thursday, making the case for a unified California front to grab more money from the federal treasury even as he stirred dissension within his own party with his call for mid-decade reapportionment.
But the only prize that the Republican governor – who relishes in the “Collectinator” label for demanding more money from Washington to help balance the state’s deficit-ridden budget – received all day was the endorsement of Common Cause for a legislative redistricting plan that has virtually no chance of reaching the voters.
Chellie Pingree, president of the public advocacy group, said she doesn’t know what Common Cause will do if the legislation, ACA 3 by Assembly Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, fails and a redistricting plan arrives at the ballot box via the initiative process.
That’s the most likely scenario, and a measure sponsored by Ted Costa – the Sacramento activist who launched the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis – could not be modified to meet the specific criteria Common Cause laid out Thursday, including the selection of ethnically diverse commissions to do the remapping.
Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, Schwarzenegger was vigorously questioned on his redistricting plan in a meeting with the state’s 20 House Republicans, some of whom are worried about their own re-elections if their districts are redrawn by an independent panel to make them more competitive.
But Schwarzenegger said he will not entertain the thought of exempting congressional districts from the remapping. “It’s non-negotiable,” the governor said.
Among those on the threatened list under the redistricting plan is House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-San Dimas, who as head of the California Republican congressional delegation arranged most of the details for the meetings but had virtually nothing to say at a press conference afterward.
“It’s a very tender issue,” Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, said of the redistricting issue.
Rep. Dan Lungren of Gold River, one of a handful of Republicans who likes the idea of mid-decade redistricting, said he thought he detected some softening of views as the caucus aired its concerns with the governor.
But Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Republican caucus is so divided over the issue that “we need to figure out where we are.”
And one of the most stridently opposed Republicans, Roseville Rep. John Doolittle, heard nothing from the governor that caused him to reconsider for a moment.
“I don’t support a commission, and I don’t support doing it in 2006,” Doolittle said tersely.
The redistricting controversy swamped the otherwise strong sense of comity that Democrats and Republicans expressed after a rare, two-hour bipartisan meeting with the governor.
Among the issues on the table was the final round of military base closings, Medicaid financing and a host of other California priorities the governor laid out.
“This is the first time I had heard people of different parties saying the same things,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who was among the legislative leaders who flew in for the meeting.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose, chairwoman of the California Democratic congressional delegation, said she was heartened to hear a Republican in the private session joining with Democrats in insisting that the 53-member congressional delegation needs to “draw a line in the sand” in support of higher federal spending for the state, and vote as a bloc to make it happen.
The delegation members applauded Schwarzenegger’s invitation to convene another meeting in Sacramento, where the governor said he and his wife, Maria Shriver, would host a reception.
But other than the promise of more meetings of a fractious delegation, there was not much more that came of the session. Later, the governor met with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to discuss a Medicaid waiver that could mean access to more federal money to pay for health care for the poor. He also met separately with California’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
State and federal officials were hoping to have a deal they could unveil Thursday but instead there was only the suggestion of another Schwarzenegger-Leavitt meeting next month, and a June deadline for a deal.
That left the governor with only the Common Cause endorsement to tout. But exactly how firm that is remains an open question.
Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said there is no chance that the redistricting bill that McCarthy was revising to meet Common Cause standards would pass.
“There is no time, and politically it is a nonstarter,” Court said.
But Pingree endorsed only the legislation, which Common Cause regards as a model other states could embrace in an effort to restore competition in legislative and congressional races.
“If we are unable to move the legislators and all of our supporters to make sure this happens in California, we’ll consider what happens next,” Pingree said. “We haven’t made a decision about that.”
Critics such as Court charged that Common Cause was risking its own reputation as a reform organization by siding with Schwarzenegger on redistricting when he is under attack for his political fund raising, another top Common Cause reform priority.
“The governor is very frank with us, and we are very frank with him,” Pingree said when asked about that. “We are Common Cause. We look at ethical issues, we look at campaign finance reform, we look at the rules. We will continue to raise questions, whether it’s about the governor or members of the congressional delegation.”
Schwarzenegger insisted that he too is for campaign finance reform if only the Legislature would go along with it.
With Pingree smiling at his side, Schwarzenegger declared, “This is a great partnership we are creating here.”
About the writer: The Bee’s David Whitney can be reached at (202) 383-0004 or [email protected]