ProPublica Blew Orange County Redistricting Story Targeting Loretta Sanchez

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Sanchez on the big screen
Earlier this month, ProPublica--a respected, investigatory news agency based in New York City--issued a report that blasted Democrats for an unethical campaign to corrupt the California Citizens Redistricting Commission that was charged with designing new boundaries for federal and state elections.

Though high-ranking Democrats are deriding the article, ProPublica's report is in many ways a valuable contribution to the public's understanding of the behind the scenes machinations that control government entities.

The two journalists who wrote the story obtained fascinating emails from Democratic insiders planning to manipulate redistricting, detailed misinformation campaigns and exposed the liberal interests that funded related efforts to convince the commission to protect Democratic Party-held districts.

But this week, Chris Prevatt at TheLiberalOC.com blog slammed the article's Orange County section that left readers with the hilariously false impression that a dastardly Loretta Sanchez cheated in the redistricting process over wide-eyed, innocent OC Republicans, who--if you believe the report's caricature--were simply interested in creating fair districts for minorities, especially the Vietnamese in Little Saigon.

(Those of you familiar with OC's political history and the local GOP's shameful, regular efforts to dilute Latino political influence or intimidate Latino citizens from voting can stop laughing now.)

How could two veteran journalists leave such a false impression?

Prevatt believes that ProPublica's reporters were "duped and manipulated" by Republican sources.

He's probably right. The reporters quoted one Republican who claimed that GOP interests were "essentially non-entities in the redistricting process" and continued on with their story as if that absurd lie was the truth. Yet, anyone who watched the process in Orange County saw that both Republicans and Democrats (everyone from right-wing religious nuts to hardcore labor activists) here worked feverishly behind the scenes to manipulate district boundaries. In fact, most of the secret, self-serving redistricting pressure in OC came from Dana Rohrabacher, John Campbell, Ed Royce and Gary Miller--all incumbent Republicans who were frantic about manipulating the redistricting commission.

(Indeed, if the reporters weren't present for the 2011 redistricting battle, they would have gained serious doubts about their premise if only they'd looked at how Rohrabacher avoided voter accountability in the previous redistricting process by essentially leaping over heavily Democratic Belmont Shore in Long Beach to grab Republican-loaded Rancho Palos Verdes.)

But the article's biggest weakness is its opinionated assertion that Little Saigon residents "lost" in the redistricting battle. To arrive at that stance, the reporters must have accepted several false assumptions: The Vietnamese Republican politicians who lobbied the commission were motivated by loyalty to the Vietnamese community, not the GOP and their own careers; the Vietnamese community is a monolith of Republicanism; and, though the area is home to some of OC's most needy residents, who rely on government assistance programs, there is little backing for Sanchez--the county's lone Democrat.

(Again, anyone with local knowledge of the political scene understands that Sanchez enjoys substantial, passionate support in Little Saigon even when facing a well-funded, Vietnamese Republican challenger backed by national Republican Party interests in Washington, D.C.)   

As Prevatt accurately observed, Republicans were just as "heavily involved" as Sanchez in redistricting efforts. Underscoring his point, he exposed how one Republican member of the redistricting panel may have sabotaged the commission in a way to aide future GOP efforts to sue over certain boundaries.

Prevatt wrote, "The specific [Republican/Vietnamese] goal was to set up congressional, senate and assembly seats that favored Republican/Vietnamese elected representation disproportionate to their demographic."

Too bad ProPublica ignored that half of the story.

--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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