The new political landscape in California, at least, is evidence of the far-reaching implications of the state adopting a nonpartisan redistricting process. After years of allowing state lawmakers to determine Congressional district lines, for 2012, an independent commission, created by voters in a referendum, drew districts without an eye to protecting incumbents. The commission was not even supposed to take into account where it was that incumbent lawmakers lived.
The move has been hailed by outside groups who say government has ossified. Yet from California’s perspective, there is a price to be paid for this. The process in effect purges more senior incumbents at a time when other states continue to use redistricting processes that protect incumbents.
“The problem with a commission in one state and not the others is that the House of Representatives still relies to a great deal on a seniority system,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat not threatened by the wave. “And it puts us at a disadvantage if the lines are drawn without regard to protecting some of the senior and most important members of the delegation.”
Some of the state’s most senior representatives are returning home, among them Jerry Lewis, the dean of the House Republican delegation, who took office in 1979. Two of the delegation’s more powerful Democrats — Howard L. Berman, and Brad Sherman — are engaged in a bitter primary after the redistricting process threw them into the same district. They have, between them, 45 years in the House.
David Wasserman, the House editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political newsletter, said that California had twice the seniority of any other delegation.
“One of the reasons that California accumulated so much clout was that in 2002, the Legislature passed an incumbent protection act that rendered none of the districts competitive,” Mr. Wasserman said, referring to the last redistricting map. “It helped California accumulate tremendous clout.”
Mr. Wasserman predicted that more incumbents would retire in the weeks ahead, chased out by the fear of running in districts filled with unfamiliar voters. There have been six retirements so far. On the Republican side, besides Mr. Lewis there are Elton Gallegly and Wally Herger, both in office since 1987. On the Democratic side, the retirement roster includes Lynn Woolsey (1993), Dennis A. Cardoza (2003) and Bob Filner (1993). In addition, Representative David Dreier, a Republican who has been in Congress since 1981, is said by colleagues to be likely to step aside.