Season of the Maps

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

You're excused for feeling like the presidential campaign –the 2012 campaign -- has already gone on too long.

Every four years seems to come along sooner and sooner.

For local politics junkies, the cycle that really matters is ten years.

That's how often the lines have to be changed on the maps that determine who gets elected.

We're now deep into that season -- when friends become rivals and backroom deals rule.

This exercise flows from the U.S. Census. Every ten years the government counts how many we are and where we live.

Then it gives us the numbers and says, here, you take over. States like California decide how to adjust their own political maps.

Voters here chose a few years ago to take the job away from elected officials and their computer programmers. They gave the job to a new citizen panel and its computers.

The lines The People came up with can best be described as… bewildering.

They leave in place the biggest complaint about the old way – that too many districts give safe seats to Democrats and Republicans.

This results in lack of competition, which in turn means the people we elect today are more extreme and less into working together.

The new maps help Democrats even more than the old lines, since it's hard to find a lot of Republicans in much of the state.

The maps also threaten to rewrite some prominent local story lines.

Example 1 is Janice Hahn. The former LA City Council member had served in Congress for...a few weeks...before learning she's got a new district.

She has to meet a new batch of voters, and take on some well connected African Americans, to keep her job.

The district she had – she lives in San Pedro – now curls up the coast to Topanga Canyon, inland to Agoura Hills -- and down the freeway to Beverly Hills.

The Democrats have bequeathed that beauty to Henry Waxman.

He used to be a Wilshire and Fairfax guy. Waxman will now serve as far away as the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The biggest complication for the Democrats is in the San Fernando Valley. There, Waxman's ally from their UCLA days, Howard Berman, is also getting a revised district.

Problem is, it's currently held by Democrat Brad Sherman.

If he wants to stay employed, Sherman has to take on the more senior Berman, who's arming up with help from guys named Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen.

There's a little irony in Howard Berman facing a primary election fight within his own party.

For decades, the maps in California were largely drawn by his brother Michael, an early master of applying technology to the craft of election consulting. Howard was, naturally, always taken care of.

The season of the new maps doesn't apply to just to congressmen and women. Every district you vote in either has been reshaped, or soon will be.

A quirk is that you may find yourself represented by someone you and your neighbors never voted for – or against.

So next time you get a ballot in the mail, take a close look. You might now have someone named Berman or Waxman… or Hahn… in your life.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.