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Commentary: Keep agriculture prominent as state redraws districts

Issue Date: February 17, 2021
By Mike Zimmerman
Mike Zimmerman
Legislative and congressional districts in California will be redrawn this year by a citizens commission, which will hold hearings later this year.

After I wrote last year about the need for Farm Bureau members to become involved in the Citizens Redistricting Commission process, many of you heard that call, by filing applications to serve on the commission or volunteering to speak up for your communities when the time comes. Now that the commission has been seated and has begun the process of planning new legislative district lines, it is time for all of us to ensure that agriculture has a seat at the table.

The 14-member commission has a tall task in the year ahead. It is solely responsible for drawing legislative and congressional district lines that will determine who represents us in Sacramento and Wash-ington, D.C., for the next decade.

To achieve that task, the commission will rely on public testimony from hundreds—possibly thousands—of individuals and groups such as ours that advocate for the interests of their members and communities.

This begs the question: How do we make an impact when there are so many competing interests?

The commission has shown interest in assuring representation for California agricultural regions. As a Farm Bureau representative, I was invited by the commission to speak for agriculture on a panel consisting of major economic sectors in California. I was joined by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the California Chamber of Commerce to discuss how our economic sectors shape our state and local communities.

My testimony emphasized to the commission the importance of recognizing "communities of interest" when it comes to agricultural areas. These communities of interest may include natural geographic boundaries or features, the prominent commodity in an area, rural versus urban divides and many other factors. Though California farmers and ranchers live in every corner of this state, there are certainly counties or regions that are defined by agriculture and rely on it as the economic driver. Keeping these communities whole is vitally important if agricultural areas are to receive full and fair representation in the halls of government.

Though the commission has already started holding hearings, it faces a huge problem with access to apportionment data.

Last year, the Trump administration and various states were tied up in litigation relating to who should be counted in the census. This created a massive delay that means states likely won't receive reapportionment data until April 30—four months behind schedule. That data determines the population size per district in the House of Representatives and apportions seats to each state accordingly. For the first time in its history, California is set to lose one of its 53 seats in the House, due to population booms in other states.

Further complicating the data crunch is the delay in census data that will inform the commission on how to equally divide state legislative boundaries. The data should arrive sometime late this summer, but that leaves little time for the commission to prepare maps and meet deadlines. Accordingly, the commission has already received permission from the state Supreme Court to delay certain deadlines, so it can meet public notice and comment requirements before it finalizes the maps.

The final moving piece in all of this involves the date of the 2022 primary election. With late-arriving maps, candidates for public office will have little time to meet filing deadlines required for various elected offices. The Legislature will likely be forced to move election dates in 2022, to ensure candidates have enough time to file nominating signatures, pay filing fees and complete other required paperwork.

The ever-changing deadlines mean we will have to be prepared for shifting public comment periods and potential last-minute changes to the overall schedule.

More importantly, we will need your thoughts and opinions on the maps as they are released.

It is certainly encouraging that the commission is being proactive and reaching out to groups such as ours prior to the map-drawing phase, but we must continue our advocacy work during the next year. California Farm Bureau staff is developing a communication schedule that will be available to all who are interested in testifying before the commission. The commission will also reach out directly to county Farm Bureaus, to inform them of hearings that will focus on their respective communities.

Due to current COVID-19 protocols, it appears most of the hearings will take place virtually. Please continue to monitor your emails and look for updates on Farm Bureau social media about how you can take part in this important discussion.

(Mike Zimmerman is director of political affairs for the California Farm Bureau. He may be contacted at mzimmerman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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