Goodbye Congressman Dreier?
With citizens drawing new districts, Claremont may turn blue
After over three decades of being represented by Claremont McKenna alumnus David Dreier, the powerful chair of the House Rules Committee who still lived in a CMC dorm during his first congressional campaign, it looks like a Democrat will represent the Claremont Colleges come January 2013.
Californians approved Proposition 20 last year, calling for a group of citizens, instead of politicians, to redraw California’s congressional district boundaries. This proposition was a response to state politicians gerrymandering district lines in order to benefit their own parties. Whichever party was in control of the state legislature at the time determined what the districts would look like for the next ten years. Proposition 20 established a Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw district lines though a fair and non-partisan process.
Last August, the commission approved the newly drawn districts. While there are many important changes, the most significant is the complete disregard for protecting the seats of long-serving incumbents. Under the new system, there are very few “safe” districts left in the state of California and many incumbents will be forced into highly competitive elections. As a result, California could be sending a very different group of representatives to Washington next year. Claremont McKenna Professor of American Government John Pitney thinks that California’s new district boundaries will make many congressional seats more competitive. “The key word to the 2012 election is uncertainty,” explained Pitney.
Representative Dreier is one of many incumbents with a suddenly uncertain political future. Dreier’s current district, which includes Claremont and most of the San Gabriel Valley, will be split into multiple districts that are much more Democratic and minority-based. Pitney, among others, believes that Dreier will not have much of a chance to win reelection in either Claremont’s new district or in San Dimas, where he is currently residing. Dreier has not stated where he plans on running in 2012, although many have speculated that he may run in a more inland, Republican-friendly district. Representative Jerry Lewis, however, is also considering running in this area, and may offer some serious competition.
Under the new boundaries, Claremont will be in a very Democratic district – one of the few that will likely not be very competitive. Representative Judy Chu, who currently represents the 32nd district and is the first Chinese-American congresswoman, was elected in a 2009 special election. Though Chu has very little seniority in Congress, she is the likely front-runner in Claremont’s new district. A rank-and-file Democrat, Chu’s number one priority has been to work alongside the Obama administration to advocate for “green collar” jobs in public transit, alternative energy, and conservation. According to Pitney, the likelihood of Chu becoming our representative is “approaching certainty.”
Claremont’s new district will probably be dominated by liberal voters in Pasadena. While it has become more liberal in recent years, Claremont is a fairly conservative city that has been loyal to Dreier. With the new district lines, the next representative will likely have less vested interest in the conservative values that have traditionally dominated the citizenry. But the new district may result in a stronger voice for left-leaning students, faculty, and staff at the Claremont Colleges. Co-president of the Democrats of the Claremont Colleges Jared Calvert PZ ‘13 maintained that the club has “always been very active in politics regardless of who our Congressperson is.” However, they are still “very excited that there is a good chance we will have a Democrat as our Congressperson.”
Pitney describes the new district as “very permanent.” Many Republicans and Democrats appear to be satisfied with the new district lines, so an attempt to recall the plan appears unlikely. Thus, Judy Chu will almost certainly become Claremont’s representative, and David Dreier will face a tough campaign wherever he decides to run – if he even decides to seek reelection. The Claremont Colleges might be getting the Democratic representation that many have been hoping for.