Between the pandemic and the machinations of the Trump administration, this could have been anticipated: The data from the 2020 U.S. Census is late.
Aside from providing a fascinating portrait of the American people, the census is of immense political consequence. It is the data that determines how many seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives — and, as already has been reported, California will lose one of its 53 seats, the first time the state has had such a decline.
It also is the data that determines where lines are drawn for districts at the federal and state levels and, quite significantly, at the local level, where district elections have become increasingly commonplace.
Every local body where there are district elections — including school districts, city councils and special districts from South San Francisco to Menlo Park, and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors — has to draw new district lines based on the 2020 census data, which should reflect how people have moved in and out of a jurisdiction, or moved within it.
As we saw in Redwood City, as they drew the lines in advance of the 2020 election, the process can be an agonizing experience. Under the best of circumstances, it requires time.
But there’s another problem. The effect of the tardy census data also could be profound, particularly on the 2022 California primary election, which is scheduled for June.
If the redistricting process gets a late start, which it most assuredly will, it can crowd up on the deadline for candidates who want to run in 2022, which includes a number of incumbent councilmembers, as well as those seeking two open seats on the Board of Supervisors, and anyone who might want to challenge countywide officials, including Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe and Chief Elections Officer and Clerk-Assessor-Recorder Mark Church.
The filing period for would-be candidates begins roughly 115 days before the election, which means for a June primary, the period begins sometime in February. Right now, the best predictions are that the census data will become available in November, anywhere from two to four months late. There is a legal timeline that each jurisdiction has to follow to make sure there is public input on the new district lines and to ensure some measure of transparency.
Frankly, it doesn’t look like it all will get done in time. And that could mean moving the primary election from June to as late as August.
Meanwhile, more than a few elected officials must be wondering what district they are in and how much people have moved around in the past 10 years.
ONE COUNTY, ONE REP: The general consensus of those who make these kinds of analyses is that a Southern California congressional seat will be deducted from the state’s total. By the way, California is one of 13 states where an independent commission is solely responsible for drawing the new congressional and legislative district lines.
But even when drawn by an independent commission, the changes to districts will ripple throughout the state and one reality is that San Mateo County could go from two members of Congress to one. Democrat Anna Eshoo represents a small, southern portion of the county, and this district steadily has been shifting south in past redistricting efforts. Democrat Jackie Speier represents the bulk of the county and a smidgen of southern San Francisco.
It is easy to envision that Speier’s district could cover all of the county and that Eshoo’s district could slip below the county line and begin in Palo Alto.
Should this happen, it would hearken back to the 1970s, when Leo Ryan was the county’s sole member of Congress. And, it is worth noting, Ryan was especially vigilant about heavy-handed behavior from San Francisco politicians and was well known as a fierce advocate for San Mateo County interests and independence.
OTHER STUFF: As for the aforementioned Mark Church, the rumors are that San Carlos community activist David Pollack may challenge the incumbent next year. Pollack would not comment on the rumor, but he recently created an Instagram account named david4assessor. … It’s just a little bit of history, since I have gone as far back as the ’70s, but it is fun to consider. When I first met Tom Lantos in 1979, as he prepared to run for Congress in the wake of Ryan’s assassination in Jonestown, he handed me a business card indicating he was a chief foreign policy advisor to then-Sen. Joseph Biden. More than once in the past several months, I have pondered the prospect of Lantos as President Biden’s national security advisor.
Mark Simon is a veteran journalist, whose career included 15 years as an executive at SamTrans and Caltrain. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.