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Redrawing the districts

Tomorrow, a citizen's panel is supposed to present a final map for our legislative districts that will frame our governmental representation for the next decade. This group will tell us the boundaries of our state Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts, and will directly affect who represents us in Sacramento and Washington.

The process, known as redistricting, is mandated each 10 years following a U.S. Census in order to keep the population in each of our legislative districts divided somewhat equally. The big wrinkle this year is that the lines aren't being drawn by government, but by folks outside of the halls of power.

This process was mandated by the voters in an effort to stop drawing these lines in such a way to protect incumbency. Though the impetus for this was to stop the majority party from creating safe districts for its members, the truth was that the minority party also got its share of safe districts, with the result that at least for state offices, there weren't a whole lot of districts where Democrat and Republican registration was fairly equal.

The new process is supposed to put and end to gerrymandering.

As a lead-up to the final recommendations tomorrow, the panel released what they call a "visualization" of how these final boundaries might look. If this plan holds, it will be plenty interesting for our area.

In our Assembly district, which currently runs from the Golden Gate Bridge north to Santa Rosa, the new district would start at the Sonoma-Marin county line, and run north along the coast all the way to Oregon. Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park would be carved out of this district, however, and become part of an inland district embracing Napa County as well.

Our congressional district, which is now comparable to our Assembly District but including a whole lot more of Santa Rosa, could also run up all the way to the Oregon border as well.

Needless to say, the way these lines are ultimately drawn will determine the political futures of a number of political hopefuls, just as it has in the past. Take the Congressional race, for example.

For much of the second half of the 20th century, the congressional district started at the county line south of town and embraced a huge chunk of northern California. Don Clausen held this seat for decades, followed by a round of musical chairs with Doug Bosco, Frank Riggs and Dan Hamburg.

Then, following the 1990 census, there was a big question of where Petaluma would fit in the new realignment. One member of the Petaluma City Council followed the redrawing carefully. There was good reason to believe that Petaluma might be lumped in with San Francisco, and Lynn Woolsey's aspirations to be a member of Congress would be severely crimped. However, when the smoke cleared, the district started at the Golden Gate Bridge and included the major population centers of Sonoma County. Woolsey captured the Democratic primary in a field clogged with Marin County aspirants, went on to win in 1992, and has won easily every two years since. The realignment after the 1990 census worked for her.

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