Legal challenge could change East Kern representation

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Legal challenge  could change East Kern representationA legal challenge to the supervisorial district lines in Kern County could have a dramatic impact on the political representation and advocacy of the outlying communities, depending on the decision following Dec. 5 testimonies in a Fresno District Court.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is suing the county, claiming that the current lines violate the Federal Voting Rights Act.

Lines were adjusted slightly in 2011 to reflect population changes identified in the 2010 census. “At the core of the case is whether the ways the lines were drawn interact with other factors in the county to dilute the Latino vote,” said Denise Hulett, senior counsel for MALDEF.

During the meetings to gather public input for redistricting after the last census, members of a Latino group promoted a plan that they said would improve chances that their communities would gain the political representation that reflected their interests.

That plan would have combined most of the 1st and 2nd districts to create one desert community. At the time, representatives of Mojave, Rosamond, California City, Ridgecrest and other outlying areas said that would only dilute the voice of rural communities — which also include military bases at Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake.

According to the 2010 census, Kern County had a total population of 839,631. According to factfind, approximately 49.2 percent of the population claim some Hispanic or Latino heritage. However, MALDEF claims that the only district with a majority of Latino heritage is District 5, represented by Leticia Perez.

MALDEF is asking Kern to redraw the lines to create at least two districts that reflect Latino heritage.

In previously published reports, Kern County Counsel Mark Nations challenged this approach.

“The basic problem they have with their case is that they’re trying to argue that in 2010-11 you could have drawn two majority-minority districts. The only way you could have done it would be to do what they say they don’t want done — which is by gerrymandering.

“You would have to take communities of very diverse interests like Shafter and Delano and put them together. We think it would be incredibly disruptive.”

At press time, the county was still awaiting a ruling from last month’s proceedings.

Anticipated outcomes are denying the request for redistricting, redrawing boundaries for the 2018 race or redrawing boundaries to incorporate plaintiff concerns and the 2020 census.

Story First Published: 2018-01-05