Re-districting forces delicate dance among incumbents

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 15, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, confronts one of the most delicate choices of any California congressional incumbent.

Like others in California's 53-member House delegation, McNerney now anxiously awaits new congressional district maps. His potential dilemma, though, is particularly fraught.

That's because the future congressional seat that may make the most political sense for McNerney spans the East Bay region currently held by fellow Democrat Pete Stark, who at 79 is California's most senior member of Congress. Some poignant decisions might soon be forced, among party leaders as well as rank-and-file members.

"It's hard," McNerney said Friday, but "until I have some confidence in what the final maps will be, I can't really decide what district I'll run in."

Stark could not be reached Friday, but he told the Bay Area News Group in June that he plans to run and added that his "health is good."

For now, incumbents and potential challengers remain in limbo. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission opted not to release revised draft congressional district maps Thursday, as originally scheduled. Instead, the commission is proceeding directly toward its mid-August deadline for the final maps.

Even then, political professionals suggest ambiguity may linger if potential legal challenges throw the map-drawing into the hands of a court-ordered panel.

"If they get stupid," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said of the redistricting commission Friday, "then it goes to court."

Still, fraternal as well as partisan clashes are inevitable under the draft maps and so-called "visualizations" produced by the redistricting commission so far.

In Southern California, for instance, Democratic Reps. Howard Berman of Van Nuys and Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks could be drawn into the same district.

A Berman-Sherman battle, if it comes to that, would get noisy. Berman reported Friday having $1.5 million in his campaign treasury as of June 30, while Sherman reported having $3 million as of March 31.

In the San Joaquin Valley, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, has already declared his intention to run in whatever seat contains Merced County. As currently drafted, the Merced County district also includes a well-populated Fresno County swath now represented by Cardoza's long-time political ally, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

"Dennis and I will have to work that out," Costa said Friday, adding that "I am going to run in Fresno County, where the bulk of my (current) constituency is."

The future maneuvering between McNerney and Stark is a different kind of problem.

The 60-year-old McNerney, first elected in 2006, now represents a district that includes much of San Joaquin County as well as Alameda County. Stark, first elected in 1972, represents a more compact district centered around Fremont and Hayward.

The latest map proposals fold Alameda County together with Hayward, leaving San Joaquin County on its own. McNerney, then, would have to step onto one side of the Altamont Pass or another. While he's gotten to know San Joaquin County as a congressman, Pleasanton is where he's lived for more than two decades.

"It's been our home," McNerney said. "My kids went to school there."

Technically, members of Congress do not have to live in the districts they represent, although it can create political sparks when they do not.

Stark does not look as spry as he once did, and he will turn 81 at about the time of the November 2012 election. A ruthless politician might consider him vulnerable, though Stark reports having $574,268 in available campaign cash as of June 30. In theory, Democratic leaders could try to avoid an intraparty conflict by quietly urging retirement, though there is no evidence that's happening.

The more predictable conflicts pit party against party. On the California coast, for instance, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, currently represents a thinly slivered district that includes portions of San Luis Obispo County. A new district is almost certain to be much more attractive to a Republican challenger.

Similarly, near Sacramento, Democrat Ami Bera is gearing up for a rematch against Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, in a district that appears likely to become friendlier for Democrats. And in San Joaquin County, Lodi resident and GOP political novice Ricky Gill has declared that he's raised $420,000 for a House race against a Democrat whose identity remains uncertain.

"That's a significant challenge, no question," McNerney said of Gill's fundraising.


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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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