In a move designed to win few friends and make many enemies among county Democratic Party activists, former state assemblymember Pedro Nava, a Democrat, joined with Brooks Firestone — Republican and former assemblymember — and urged the citizens panel drawing up new political districts to redraw the 35th Assembly District lines so that it includes only Santa Barbara County. The current district includes parts of Oxnard, all of Ventura, and most of Santa Barbara County south of Santa Ynez. Nava and Firestone argued that Santa Barbara County now has the nearly requisite population to make up an assembly district unto itself; to maintain the status quo, they said, would separate communities of interest and fly in the face of “geographical compactness,” two of the principles often invoked during redistricting battles.
If approved, the new district would mark the first time in at least 30 years that Oxnard and Santa Barbara were not joined in the same assembly district. Nava argued that his proposal would unshackle Oxnard and Ventura from the political domination they’ve endured at the hands of Santa Barbara politicians and voters. If Nava’s proposal were adopted, Democrats would still retain an edge in voter registration, but not nearly as great as they do now. If Santa Maria and Lompoc were joined with Santa Barbara — as opposed to Oxnard and Ventura — the district would become undeniably more conservative.
Testifying before the redistricting committee, which held a hearing last week in San Luis Obispo, Nava said the new boundaries would encourage more moderate candidates and discourage those on the political “fringe.” This, he argued, would reduce the intense partisanship that’s crippled Sacramento. Commenting afterward, current 35th District representative Das Williams said Ventura and Santa Barbara have long shared a common goal of protecting the coast from oil development; by splitting the two, he said, “Our voice will be significantly diluted.” Williams noted that Firestone and Republican Mike Stoker — who ran unsuccessfully against Williams in last November’s runoff — have both advocated increased oil development, suggesting that may be their true motive. Williams also suggested that Ventura and Oxnard are not big enough to make up an assembly district of their own. Without Santa Barbara, they’d have to join with Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, both more conservative than Santa Barbara.
Many South Coast Democrats expressed dismay at Nava’s suggestion, regarding it as a personal attack on Williams, who beat Nava’s wife, Susan Jordan, in a nasty primary battle last June. Prior to running for Assembly, Williams — an outspokenly progressive Democrat — spent years developing a base of operations in Ventura and Oxnard. He has no such machine in place in Santa Maria, nor does the Democratic Party. “We’d have to build one in a hurry,” said Democratic strategist Daraka Larimore-Hall. Stoker also endorsed the district boundaries proposed by Nava, stating he’d definitely run again if they were in place.
Williams, now five months into his first term, arrived in Sacramento at a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. Not only has the state’s budget crisis achieved historic dimensions, but political districts are scheduled to be re-carved by a political entity — approved by voters statewide in 2008 — independent of either party. In addition, the state’s old primary system, where the top vote-getters of any parties face off against each other, will be replaced by an “open primary” system, in which the top two vote-getters — regardless of party affiliation — face one another. Some Democrats have suggested Nava’s interest in district boundaries has been motivated by his desire to run for State Senate. “I never say ‘never,’ but I can say that’s not on the drawing board right now,” he said.