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House braces for district shifts

Lawmakers build war chests ahead of high court ruling by ALAN FRAM The Associated Press | May 10, 2015 at 4:31 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Vulnerable U.S. House incumbents are fattening their campaign accounts as the Supreme Court approaches a decision on a case that could force legislatures to reshape congressional districts in 13 states or more, perhaps in time for next year's elections.

Political advisers from both parties say Republican-run Arizona and Democrat-led California are the likeliest states where lawmakers would need to redraw House district lines if the plaintiffs prevail. For Arizona Republicans who brought the lawsuit, that could mean that the seat or two their party might gain in that state's U.S. House delegation would be outstripped by lost GOP seats from more populous California.

"Probably not a huge shift for either state," said GOP consultant Chris Jankowski.

Some lawmakers from both states are amassing more cash than they did two years ago, aware that they may suddenly be running in less-hospitable districts. They include Republican U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao of California and Arizona Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema, all possible targets of unfriendly legislatures if redistricting is ordered.

The justices are considering whether Arizona's independent redistricting commission, created by voters in 2000, has usurped a role that the Constitution intended for state legislatures. Republicans running the state Legislature filed the lawsuit after complaining that the commission helped Democrats by packing large numbers of GOP voters into just a few districts.

California voters gave similar power to an independent commission in 2010. Both states left virtually no redistricting role for their legislatures, and most experts think both would be affected if Arizona's commission is deemed unconstitutional.

Valadao spokesman Tal Eslick said, "California voters spoke clearly -- Sacramento politicians in smoke-filled back rooms should no longer get to choose their voters by drawing partisan districts."

Valadao is seeking a third term from his Central Valley district and reported raising $358,000 through the first three months of 2015, quadruple what he raised two years ago.

The nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures says commissions share redistricting power with legislatures in 11 other states. Combined, those states hold 152 seats in the 435-member House.

Since no one knows how far-reaching the justices' ruling will be, those states might also be affected by the decision, expected by legal analysts by July. But the effect could be limited.

Control of the legislature and governor's office is divided between Democrats and Republicans in six of those 11 states, meaning neither party could dominate a redrawing of congressional lines. Those states are Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

In three others -- Connecticut, Hawaii and Idaho -- one party controls state government but already holds all of the state's House seats. That means a new map probably wouldn't cede House seats to that state's minority party.

That leaves Indiana and Ohio, where Republicans run state government and the House delegations are divided. Democrats hold four of 16 House seats from Ohio and two of nine from Indiana, and analysts from both parties say Republicans would be hard-pressed to win additional House seats by drawing new lines.

The ruling might affect still more states if the court invalidates other practices, such as states that give their courts a role in shaping House district lines, said Justin Levitt, an author of a brief filed in the case defending redistricting commissions.

"It could end up affecting hundreds of districts across the country. It's up to the court's rationale," said Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Five of Arizona's nine House seats are held by Republicans. Should the court tell the GOP-run state Legislature to redraw those districts, Republicans say one goal would be to strengthen freshman GOP Rep. Martha McSally, who won her race in November by 161 votes out of more than 200,000 ballots. They could also put more Republican voters into the districts of Democrats Kirkpatrick and Sinema in hopes of ousting them.

In solidly Democratic California, the reverse is true.

There, the congressional delegation tilts 39-14 for Democrats. If the state's Democratic Legislature draws a new map, targeted Republicans would likely include Valadao, Denham and Rep. Steve Knight, said Shawnda Westly, executive director of the California Democratic Party.

Westly said those districts are in areas with growing populations of Hispanics, who tend to back Democrats and whom the party has been registering to vote. An added bonus: Those areas are near the district of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

"It would be embarrassing for him if we win those," she said.

A Section on 05/10/2015

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