Karen Ocamb

LA Redistricting Fights Will Be Expensive & Painful for LGBTs

Filed By Karen Ocamb | August 25, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Betsy Butler, California Assembly, congressional district, LA redistricting, Los Angeles, Luis Lopez, Torie Osborn

Assembly candidate Luis Lopez and his partner, Hans Johnson at the Aug. 11, 2011 Equality California Awards in Beverly Hills (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

The maps by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission redrawing boundaries for the state Assembly, Senate and Congressional Districts may have been finalized on Aug. 15 - but the arguments over lines continues - legally, politically and increasingly, on a very personal level. One fight in particular - between Assembly incumbent and longtime LGBT ally Betsy Butler and longtime LGBT activist Torie Osborn in the newly drawn 50th Assembly District – promises to be very expensive and painful.

There is a strong possibility that Republicans will try to place a referendum on the ballot. If their measure qualifies, the Redistricting Commission's plan would be suspended and the California Supreme Court would determine districts for the 2012 election, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund might take the commission to court alleging the commission did not comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. Openly gay Assembly candidate Luis Lopez, for instance, is among those anxiously waiting to see how the legal issues unfold. And some LA Latinos are upset that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Advisory Commission failed to create a second Latino-majority supervisorial district in their recommended map presented to the five supervisors.

And, while not officially recognized in the federal Voting Rights Act, there has been considerable discussion about how certain districts with large LGBT populations should be considered Communities of Interest deserving of an LGBT representative.

I wrote an extensive piece for Frontiers In LA magazine about how redistricting may impact the Los Angeles area, especially races in which LGBT and pro-LGBT candidates may be pitted against each other.

In the Valley, for instance, both Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman are seeking reelection - now from a new shared district. As Kevin Roderick notes at LA Observed, the DreamWorks team of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen sent out solicitations for Berman for maximum $5,000 campaign contributions, "wrapped in invitations to a November 10 funder at the Beverly Hilton." Now Berman's been liberal, Spielberg and Katzenberg have been very pro-gay and Geffen is gay - but when he was seeking a seat on the Board of Equalization in the early 1990s, tax law specialist Brad Sherman sued rabidly antigay Rev. Lou Sheldon challenging the tax-exempt status of Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition. TVC eventually split into a lobbying arm and an official nonprofit "educational" arm.

But there's another issue that could cause considerably uproar among LGBTs in the state. As many know by now,

Assembly candidate Torie Osborn with LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl (l) and LA City Council President Eric Garcetti at Osobrn's June 2011 campaign kick off (Photo by Marta Evry)

Equality California's new executive director Roland Palencia is trying to take the organization in a new direction. It is not surprising then that Palencia endorsed contributed $500 to fellow post-Prop 8 EQCA critic Torie Osborn, endorsed by openly gay LA City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. Mike Bonin, Rosendahl’s deputy, is helping Osborn, with whom he co-founded the Courage Campaign’s Camp Courage trainings post-Prop 8.

However, EQCA has an official policy of endorsing incumbents who are 100% pro-LGBT and have done nothing else to merit consideration. The endorsement is generally considered automatic.

Osborn's challenger Betsy Butler, a straight ally, was on the board of Equality California for many years and raised a ton of money both for the organization and for the No on Prop 8 campaign and is endorsed by openly gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and openly gay West Hollywood Mayor Prop Tem Jeff Prang, who dropped out of the race to not oppose an incumbent.

There is some concern among LGBTs and other straight allies that Butler will be shunted aside in favor of Osborn because Osborn is a lesbian. Meanwhile, despite repeated attempts to get a response from Palencia, he refused to say whether he was going to recuse himself from EQCA's endorsement process, given his endorsement and support for Osborn.

Mario Guerrero, EQCA's government affairs director, spoke up for Palencia:

"The process is that PAC committee members interview candidates, put forth a recommendation of endorsement to the full board who then gets a chance to weigh in. As [executive director], Roland is not a voting member in any part of this process."

Assemblymember and EQCA board member Betsy Butler with West Hollywood Mayor and former EQCA board president John Duran at EQCA Awards in Aug 2009 when Duran was honored (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Here's how I wrote about the EQCA dilemma in Frontiers:

When he was executive director, Geoff Kors explained the policy thusly: "EQCA only endorses candidates who support our mission 100 percent of the time--and if they remain 100 percent we stand with them as they move up in their careers. The policy was created in 2004 to make it clear to folks in the Legislature and statewide office that we would have their backs if they voted and stood up for LGBT issues 100 percent of the time. And for true leaders on our issues, we would become strong partners throughout their careers. Once elected, if they were a 100 percent vote and we endorsed them before, they would be endorsed again automatically even if they were running for a different seat. The reason is so those in office can be held accountable and so they know standing with us would mean we would stand with them. This has been critical in helping us achieve our goals."

That was then, this is now. "We were reviewing our endorsement policies given major changes with open primaries, redistricting, ongoing term limits. We periodically revisit our policies," Guerrero said, without explaining how the major electoral changes impacted EQCA's policy. "Finally, our current endorsement policy is more than a singular policy of supporting an incumbent. We also look at viability, if the candidate is LGBT, if the candidate scores 100 percent on our questionnaire, etc. I did not say that a specific part of our policy was under review. … I said our policies are under review."

(Crossposted at LGBT POV)

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I've had really mixed feelings about the redistricting. Even though I live in Rep. Sherman's district and he's going to have to face Rep. Berman in the next election I guess I'm actually in favor of the new districts overall.

Even though it doesn't effect federal elections the more serious election issue in CA for me is the "Jungle" primary. It's aim is definitely to preserve the two parties at a state level where it is the most vulnerable.