Assemblyman James Gallagher has introduced legislation that could end what he believes is unfair representation for rural counties in the California Legislature.
Gallagher hopes to reapportion the state Senate districts through Assembly Constitutional Amendment 16 to ensure each of California’s unique regions have a voice.
“The Representation Equality Act would provide an important check to tyranny of the majority by allowing every region to have an equal say and representation in important policy issues,” Gallagher said, in a statement. “This would ensure no one region can dominate others, and would help build a consensus that better reflects the interest and concerns of all Californians.”
Specifically, the legislation would create eight regions, with five senators elected from each region.
The five districts within each region would be determined by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, in accordance to existing criteria, including population, geographic continuity, and common interests, Gallagher said.
California’s current Senate and Assembly districts are drawn based on population, which results in different regions having vastly different levels of representation in the Legislature.
For example, 14 different state senators represent Los Angeles County.
On the other hand, the eight counties of Colusa, Butte, Glenn, Tehama, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter and Yuba share one senator, as does the nine counties of Alpine, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra and Siskiyou.
“Rural communities throughout the valley and foothill/Sierra regions have long been underrepresented,” said Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, a co-author of the legislation. “This constitutional amendment will help balance the scale for the citizens in these regions so that our needs and concerns are equal to those who live in Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bierber, also shared in authoring ACA 16.
Dahle’s constituents in the Shasta Cascade region and the northern Sierra Nevada, also believe they have no voice on state matters.
“Every region deserves an equal say, and this is a start,” Dahle said.
Gallagher said ACA 16 would divide the state Senate districts to better represent the diverse regions of California, while preserving the principal of “one-person one-vote” in the state Assembly.
Although not connected, the introduction of Gallagher’s legislation follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Fair Representation, primarily “State of Jefferson” supporters, who have long argued that rural communities lack sufficient voice in state government and that their unique concerns have largely been ignored.
That lawsuit seeks to bring back the pre-1966 structure in which each county had one state senator, and would shrink the sizes of the Assembly districts to encompass fewer residents.
Mark Baird, Jefferson’s primary spokesman, said Gallagher’s legislation could offer better representation for the north, although it would still give Los Angeles County the same percentage of representation.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s at least a try,” Baird said.
Baird added that he hopes the legislation passes because it could put more pressure on the state to do something about the imbalance of representation, which could ultimately help with the court case.
Meanwhile, the State has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, basically on the grounds that if underrepresentation exists in the state, then all Californians have been harmed equally.
“Their first argument is that two wrongs make a right,” Baird said.
Baird said the Citizens for Fair Representation is currently working on a response to the state’s request for dismissal, but hopes to get the lawsuit before a three-judge panel as soon as possible.
The importance of getting the lawsuit before a district court is that it would lead the way to access to the US Supreme Court, Baird said. ■