Redistricting conference scheduled for March 28

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

In light of the recent order by U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd in favor of the immediate redrawing of district boundaries set up by the Kern County Board of Supervisors, county attorneys are scheduled to hold a settlement conference with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund on March 28 in hopes of finding a solution that meets the diverse interests and demographics of one of the largest counties in the state.

MALDEF filed against Kern County, challenging the last redistricting process as marginalizing Kern’s significant faction of Hispanic residents and potentially making it more difficult for them to elect Latino candidates.

Drozd ruled Feb 23 that he agreed boundaries created in 2011 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and directed the county to work with MALDEF to resolve the issue by the November general election.

“We absolutely need fair representation for everyone. MALDEF says we didn’t do that. And if we didn’t, we certainly need to fix it,” said 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents the northeast portion of Kern.

However, he said, in order to protect the interests of the rural communities in his district, the lines should not be redrawn to unfairly weight votes in favor of the metropolitan areas of the county.

Gleason noted in his recent address at the IWV Economic Outlook Conference that he and 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner work to represent the interests of the military bases, alternative energy industries and aerospace endeavors unique to East Kern.

“East Kern still needs two votes, no matter what. We can’t disenfranchise half of Kern County residents in order to accommodate another group. Our solution needs to be fair to everyone. Taking East Kern from two votes to one vote takes us farther away from that.”

Gleason cited ongoing challenges that have plagued Central Valley industries — including agriculture and oil — and stated that he believes the future prosperity of Kern lies in the eastern portion of the county.

The Navy is growing, which is evident by the growth reported at China Lake. “The pivot to the Pacific is going to bring jobs, resources and opportunities to Ridgecrest,” he said.

“We have to stay in tune with these demands if we are going to be able to meet our future needs.”

Beyond the potential impacts to Ridgecrest — regarded by many as an overlooked community on the edges of Kern, dwarfed by the population and economic engines west of our mountains — the redistricting solution is expected to trigger significant changes on the political landscape.

New districts proposed by MALDEF restructure many of the districts so that supervisors are no longer residents within the boundaries they are meant to represent.

The redistricting process is also expected to delay 2018 elections. Primary races for the 2nd and 3rd districts will be held in November, instead of June, although some speculate that the bureaucratic process may make even that timeline difficult to meet.

“Nobody knows where this is going,” said Gleason.

“We have very limited visibility into the future. But we know the jduge is serious about making changes, and we know he says it must be satisfied by this year.

“We could end up with a solution that has minimum impact, or we could be facing an appeal in the courts.

“We just have to be patient.”

Story First Published: 2018-03-09