The Politics of Geography

San Jose Mercury News, September 10, 2001
By Leon E. Panetta

More than 20 years ago, in a proposed redistricting plan for the 16th Congressional District, almost half of Santa Cruz County was split off from the rest of the Central Coast area.

As congressman for that area at the time, I strongly opposed the plan and fought it in Sacramento.

The Democrats defended the plan on the basis that they had removed a large number of Republicans from my district and that therefore, I should be pleased. My response was that most of those Republicans voted for me and more importantly, the plan hurt all of the voters of my district because it undermined the unity of representation that gave strong voice to the common concerns of the Central Coast.

After some tough battles and negotiations and with the help of then-state Sen. Henry Mello from Watsonville, the plan was revised to allow the large majority of Santa Cruz voters to remain in the 16th District.

Today, the same terrible mistake is being repeated. Only this time, the entire Central Coast would be split to form several state Senate districts: one reaching from Santa Cruz to Redwood City in the north, another extending from Salinas to Modesto in the east, and the other from Monterey to Santa Maria in the south. The long tradition of having Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties represented by one representative would be shattered.

This proposed plan has nothing to do with population trends or common sense or geography. It has everything to do with trying to accommodate the politics of redistricting in Sacramento.

I well understand the nature of the raw politics that often drives this process. All incumbents and friends have to be satisfied first, majorities have to be protected and strengthened, minorities hopefully have to be pacified. But surely, the voters deserve some consideration in this process as well.

Even the courts have made clear that redistricting is not just about dividing up Republicans and Democrats in every which way. It is primarily about legislative districts that should make sense, particularly for voters who deserve representation on common issues and on common concerns.

The people of the Central Coast have long shared a bond that is reflected in our quality of life.

The Monterey Bay and coastline is protected by a National Marine Sanctuary that the people fought for in a mutual effort to protect our coastal resources.

The communities of the Central Coast have the same economic, social and cultural interests: from agriculture to tourism, from marine research to fishing, from small businesses to military installations, from unique educational institutions to natural treasures like the Big Sur Coast, Pt. Lobos and the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, from Bach and jazz and golf in Monterey to Shakespeare, the Boardwalk and surfing in Santa Cruz.

The voters of the Central Coast deserve one representative that fights for our interests. The proposed redistricting plan undermines the strength of the voters of this area by combining them with voters that have little or no relationship with the Central Coast.

State Sen. Bruce McPherson, a Republican, and Assemblyman Fred Keeley and myself, Democrats, have joined together in a bipartisan effort to urge the restoration of a single Senate district for the Central Coast. We have asked the voters of the Central Coast to speak out to ensure that their common concerns and interests are protected.

But this is not just about the people of the Central Coast. This is also about all voters who deserve protection under a system of government that guarantees that all of us, regardless of party, are entitled to fair and just representation. This is about more than just politics. This is about the quality of our democracy.

© 2001 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources.
All Rights Reserved.