Roughly half of Riverside County residents and 54% of San Bernardino County residents are Latino. But they make up just a third of the entire delegation both counties send to Sacramento and Washington.
Meanwhile, the Inland Empire has just one Black state lawmaker and no Black members of Congress.
It’s a picture that could diversify by year’s end.
Newly redrawn maps could give candidates of color a better chance of winning Inland state legislative and congressional seats.
“The (state redistricting) commission really paid attention to making sure that specific communities were kept together in the same districts,” said Corey Jackson, a Riverside County Board of Education trustee and Riverside NAACP political action chair.
“The commission did, I believe, the best job possible in keeping (communities of color) together so they are able to have a collective voice.”
Fourteen lawmakers represent Riverside County in the Legislature and House of Representatives. Of those eight are White, five are Latino, none are Black and one is Asian American. The county is about 50% Latino, 33% White, 7% Asian and 6% Black, according to the 2020 Census.
Of the 19 lawmakers representing San Bernardino County in the Legislature and House, nine are White, five are Latino, one is Black, one is Native American and three are Asian American. The county is 54% Latino, 26% White, 8% Black and 8% Asian, census numbers show.
Redistricting happens every 10 years to make sure lawmakers’ districts reflect population changes revealed by the latest census. For the past two redistricting cycles, California has used an independent citizens panel to draw new Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts.
The new districts were finalized late last year and go into effect with the June primary. The 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission had to follow many rules in drawing the maps, including state and federal laws intended to protect minority communities’ political influence and give them the best chance of electing candidates of their choice.
Often, those choices differ from White voters. For example, a study commissioned by Riverside County supervisors as part of their redistricting process found that the county’s Latino and White voters routinely picked different candidates, with the Latino-preferred choice often losing as a result.
Even though the Inland Empire “has been a majority minority for a long time, political representation has not caught up,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a UC Riverside professor of public policy and founder of the Center for Social Innovation at UCR.
But the Inland representation gap between Inland White and Latino politicians is shrinking, according to a study from Ramakrishnan’s center. In 2010, 68% of Inland candidates who won state legislative or congressional seats were White while 24% were Latino, but in 2020, 46% of legislative and congressional election winners were White and 35% were Latino, according to the study.
While Ramakrishnan hopes redistricting will improve representation for people of color, he called it “a conditional optimism.”
“I hope that the new census data and the new districts will encourage a kind of dynamic where political parties, as well as donors, as well as mentors, who hold existing office think about a new generation of leadership and how to foster that.”
The new maps reshaped the Inland political landscape to the benefit of people of color, said Derek Humphrey, an Inland Democratic political strategist.
Of the 11 new Inland Assembly districts, seven are majority Latino, up from four from 2011 redistricting, Humphrey said via email. Three of the seven seats also have sizable Black populations, he said.
“And it’s very likely that all seven of the Assembly seats will be represented by candidates of color in 2023,” he said. “Five of the seats have Latino incumbents and the other two are open seats where Latino and African American candidates are the only ones to have announced so far.”
Humphrey said Black residents make up about 15% of the population in two Inland Assembly districts, one centered in San Bernardino, the other encompassing Moreno Valley and Perris.
“On the (state) Senate side, we went from one Latino-majority seat entirely contained in the Inland Empire to two, but there are also two other Latino-majority seats that include portions of either Riverside or San Bernardino County,” Humphrey added .
Michael Gomez Daly, executive director of Inland Empire United, which seeks to boost civic engagement among traditionally overlooked communities, is also a fan of the new political districts.
“I think generally overall, these districts are better suited to allow communities of color to elect a candidate of their choice,” Daly said. “I do think it’s better, especially on the Assembly and Senate side.”
The California Latino Legislative Caucus interviewed 22 Latino candidates seeking the caucus’ endorsement for their legislative campaigns, more than ever before, Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Colton, said in a telephone interview.
“Now that we have redistricting completed, it provides opportunities for so many candidates, especially candidates of color, to see that there are opportunities for them,” she said.
While more needs to be done to make elected representation more equal, “it’s clear that success leads to more success,” Reyes added.
“It also shows that it can be done,” she said. “It shows that if someone else did it that looks like them, then certainly there’s a place for someone who looks like them in that election.”
While advocates for non-White communities are happy with the state redistricting panel’s work, the same can’t be said for Riverside County supervisor maps, which groups like the ACLU of Southern California said illegally dilute Latino voting power. Those groups did not publicly object when San Bernardino County supervisors redrew their districts.
Late last month, the Assembly approved a bill from Assembly Member Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, that would take the mapmaking pen out of Riverside County supervisors’ hands and give it to an independent redistricting commission.
Jackson, who is Black, plans to run as a Democrat for the 60th Assembly District, which will represent Moreno Valley and Perris and parts of Riverside, Hemet and San Jacinto. Democrat Esther Portillo, who is Latina, is also running in the 60th.
While he’s encouraged by the state redistricting panel’s work, Jackson said “the real action in terms of representation” will unfold as city councils, school boards and other public agencies draw new district maps, because those offices are often a springboard to higher office.
“Now is the time for people to exercise their vote,” he said. “These districts were drawn in a way to give their votes even more power and more influence and now it’s up to us to use it.”