Democrats increase partisan advantage in congressional districts and barely touch Hispanic populations
Assembly Democrats introduced their new maps — in AB566 — Tuesday, May 17 during an Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections committee meeting. They then passed them in the Senate and Assembly committees by party-line votes.
The maps included revised voting-age populations for 28 Assembly districts, all 21 Senate districts, and the four congressional districts.
"Based on floor statements, based on talks of deviations, [and] based on the governor's veto, we made changes," said Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, during the meeting.
Despite the population revisions, most of the Hispanic-influenced districts remain unchanged, meaning the revised Democrat maps still contain fewer Hispanic-influenced districts than do the Republican maps. Each party has accused the other of potentially violating the federal Voting Rights Act.
The Democrats' original maps contained two Hispanic-majority Assembly districts and one state Senate district. The original maps reduced the number of Hispanic-majority Senate districts from the current number but kept the same number of Hispanic-majority Assembly districts.
In their revised plan, the Democrats retain two Hispanic-majority Assembly seats from their original plan (Assembly Districts 11 and 28), and add a second Hispanic-majority Senate seat (Senate District 10). The new plan increases from 12 to 13 the number of Assembly districts with a Hispanic voting-age population greater than 25 percent. The number of such Senate districts remains unchanged at six.
Some of the biggest changes in the new plan were in the new congressional districts, with the current district of Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, now stretching into Esmeralda, Lincoln and Lyon counties, and Republican Rep. Joe Heck's district remaining wholly in Clark County.
While the district shapes changed, the Hispanic voting-age numbers in each district remained nearly identical to the original plan. The Hispanic voting-age population in CD-3, now represented by Heck, increased from 24.69 percent in the first plan to 31.33 percent in the revised one, while the comparable percentage in CD-1 (Berkley) dropped from 28.71 to 22.29. The Hispanic voting-age populations in Congressional Districts 2 and 4 changed by less than 0.3 percentage points.
"It's hard to see any major changes or envision a different end result," said Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, during the May 17 meeting. By "end result," he indicated, he was referring to a Sandoval veto.
Hickey also criticized the lack of quality debate concerning the Democrat and Republican map alternatives.
"Our [Republican] map wasn't really heard in this committee," Hickey said. "I disagree [with Assembly Speaker Oceguera] and don't think we've had any real conversations at this point."
Democrats countered they wouldn't give the Republican map a hearing because Republican map data hadn't been released on public mapping systems. On May 20, the Republicans released their data and a statement indicating their willingness to compromise.
"Democrats have put forth two plans with info but no Republican [info]," said Assemblyman and committee Chair Tick Segerblom, D-Clark, during the meeting. "If we don't see any data or changes, we're going to go back and forth with party-line votes."
Despite "changes" mentioned by Oceguera, the new plan's lack of Hispanic influence suggests little Democrat attention to the wording in Sandoval's veto statement.
"Of the four Congressional seats it establishes, not one contains a Hispanic majority — though such a district can clearly and simply be drawn, consistent with traditional redistricting principles," Sandoval had written. "The representation of the Hispanic population would be no more fair in the State Senate and Assembly plans, where most Hispanics are crowded into as few districts as possible and where those that are not constitute overwhelming minorities in the districts they are in."
Sandoval also charged political gerrymandering, writing: "This plan ensures partisan opportunity rather than the fair representation of all Nevadans. Partisan gerrymandering is not legal, equitable, or acceptable."
Assembly Democrats' revised maps do enhance their partisan advantages.
Originally, the maps offered by the Democrats gave their party three Democrat-leaning districts (CDs 1, 3 and 4), while CD-2 retained a Republican advantage. In their revised maps, the Democrats padded or maintained their advantages in CDs 1, 3 and 4 while decreasing the Republican advantage in CD-2. Registered Democrats remained at 47 percent in CD-1, increased from 35 to 36 percent in CD-2 and increased from 44 to 47 percent in CD-3. In CD-4, registered Democrats decreased from 43 to 42 percent, but registered Republicans remained at 35 percent, thus maintaining a Democrat advantage.
The configuration of the proposed new Democrat congressional districts would benefit several of their rumored congressional candidates, including Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Clark, Sen. Mo Denis, D-Clark, and Oceguera. The newly proposed CD-1, with a 47 percent-to-31 percent registered-Democrat advantage, encompasses Horsford's current state Senate district. Oceguera's current district straddles CDs 3 and 4, which are both Democrat-leaning districts. Additionally, the current state Senate district represented by Denis is within CD-3, which also contains the largest Hispanic voting-age population (31 percent).
Denis, Horsford and Oceguera are each members of their respective chamber's Legislative and Operations committee.
If approved, CD-3 would become the most heavily Democrat district in the state (17-percentage-point Democrat advantage). Currently held by Rep. Heck, it would likely make his re-election campaign extremely difficult.
"The congressman expects the state legislators to do their job, but he'd hope in the [redistricting] process they'd put Nevadans above politics," said a spokesman from Heck's office.
Hickey challenged the Democrats' political motives and questioned whether the Democrats' call for "public input" was simply a charade.
"Can you [Legislative Counsel Bureau and Assembly Democrats] show where public plans were incorporated into the amendments?" Hickey asked. "It's not a public process if we aren't incorporating public suggestions."
If Sandoval vetoes the revised maps, it's uncertain whether the Democrats will pursue a third bill in the remaining two weeks of the session. Segerblom told the Nevada News Bureau last week, "There is no Plan C."
Sandoval's office has not indicated whether the governor would make redistricting the topic of a special session, as was the case in 2001, or if he'll allow the issue to be resolved judicially. Both parties, expecting a stalemate over the maps, have filed placeholder lawsuits.
For more redistricting coverage, please visit www.nevadajournal.com/gerrymandering.