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Calif. Redistricting Likely To Have National Impact

JOHN YDSTIE, host: The political landscape in California is on the verge of drastic change. Tomorrow, the state's Citizens Redistricting Commission is expected to give final approval to a new map of congressional and legislative districts. And those newly-drawn districts combined with a new primary election system are likely to shake up California's political status quo for the first time in two decades.

Bruce Cain joins us in the studio to spell out the changes. He is director of the University of California Washington Center. Welcome to the program. Thanks for coming in.

BRUCE CAIN: Glad to be here.

YDSTIE: What are the main differences between the old legislative district lines and the new ones being drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission?

CAIN: In the past, the redistricting when it wasn't done by the court, was done by the Legislature. And the Legislature used political data and used information about where people lived, and took the existing lines and made him equally populated. This commission is the citizen commission, scrubbed clean of any attachments with the Legislature, and their mandate was to draw lines without paying attention to political data. As a consequence, its basically drawn the lines anew. It's certainly rearranged the table quite drastically in California.

YDSTIE: And what does that mean, potentially, for the party balance in California's Congressional delegation?

CAIN: By my calculation there are at least 13 seats that could go either way. Out of that could come, depending upon the kind of national election we have, in 2012, it could be the swing of as many of five or six seats for the Democrats. Or it could be that we'll stay relatively close to the current division.

YDSTIE: But the Democrats are most likely to gain.

CAIN: Yeah, and that's of course an irony, because it was the Republican Party that pushed, along with the good government groups, for the reform. I think they expected to be the beneficiaries. But they forgot one thing, which is the iron law of demography. Demography determines the districts more than the line drawers. And what had happened in the last decade was a continued growth of the Latino population, outside now of the inner-city areas and into the rural and suburban areas.

So we're talking about the Inland Empire, San Bernardino, Riverside and the Central Valley. And that's where the Republicans could lose a lot of their current incumbents.

YDSTIE: Can you imagine that over the next decade or so, reforms like this could unlock the gridlock in our national politics?

CAIN: Not by themselves. I mean, on the margins they can help. But I think most political scientists believe that the gridlock is based fundamentally in deeper forces - either public opinion, the way the media operates, or money.

YDSTIE: So it looks like a very interesting election in 2012 in California.

California always provides entertainment for the rest of the country.

Bruce Cain is director of the University of California Washington Center. Thanks for being with us.

Glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.