Political shake-up in California

Reordered district lines are just part of what will make 2012 an unpredictable election season

LOS ANGELES/AP Long-serving U.S. Rep. Wally Herger announced this week that he will not seek re-election in November, the latest sign that a political shake-up is under way in California that will have implications from Washington to Sacramento.

A voter-approved independent citizens panel redrew the boundaries of California’s legislative and congressional districts ahead of the 2012 elections after decades of gerrymandering by lawmakers preserved districts for incumbents and the parties. Elections in recent years have often been formalities: Only one House incumbent lost in California in the last decade.

But the new district lines appear to have played at least some role in concluding the careers of several House members who will not seek reelection, while a long list of open seats has piled up in legislatives races.

In nearly every case in the House, “redistricting had more to do with the retirements than the desire to give up the seat,” said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, an analysis of legislative and congressional races.

The conservative Herger represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District in Northern California that includes Redding and Chico. The 66-year-old is serving his 13th term and was facing primary challenges from at least two other Republicans. He has endorsed Republican state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, a 51-year-old rice farmer.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly of Ventura County announced that he would bypass another term. The Republican also faced a tough re-election battle because of redistricting.

Five-term Rep. Dennis Cardoza also opted to retire rather than take on his friend and fellow Democrat, Rep. Jim Costa, in a newly configured 16th Congressional District, which includes Merced, Madera and part of Fresno counties in California’s agricultural heartland.

Rep. Bob Filner, also a Democrat, is running for mayor in San Diego, where he once served as deputy mayor and on the San Diego City Council.

There could be other retirements. Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis has yet to announce if he will seek another term. Meanwhile, new district lines will force some long-serving incumbents to compete for the same seat, such as Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.

California has a reputation for fostering all things cutting edge, but its politics have often looked tired and ripe for reform. In recent U.S. House and legislative races, Election Day has come and gone with little drama ” because of skewed election districts, many members of Congress and legislators never faced a competitive election.

In November 2004, for example, none of the 153 seats in the California congressional delegation and Legislature that were on the ballot changed party hands.

That appears to be changing, at least in some cases.

The district boundaries drafted by the independent commission “produced results some of the politicians didn’t want or expect,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont-McKenna College. “As a result, a number of members are opting for retirement.”

The reordered district lines are just part of what will make 2012 an unpredictable election season. Voters are angry over the economy and dismayed with Congress and the Legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown also plans to ask voters to increase taxes on the wealthy and boost the state sales tax.