Muzzling Redistricting Commish Mike Ward
By JOHN HRABE
The lone member of the state’s redistricting commission to vote against the new political boundaries for state and federal legislative districts claims that the commission’s attorneys have advised him not to speak to the press or explain his dissenting vote to the public, according to an email to CalWatchDog.com.
Mike Ward, a Republican commissioner from Anaheim, told CalWatchDog.com that he could only reissue his brief statement made during open session, a statement that alluded to potential conflicts of interest and improprieties by the commission.
“After consultation with our litigation team, I have been advised to avoid making any public comments beyond what I stated in open session,” Ward wrote in the email.
Ward’s latest comments offer a new explanation for his failure to speak to the media: That his continued silence isn’t of his choosing. When asked at last week’s press conference about his dissenting vote, Ward responded with a cryptic statement that made it unclear whether he chose not to speak or was prevented from speaking to the media.
“We all had the opportunity to vote this morning and discuss the maps,” Ward said in response to a question from Judy Lin of the Associated Press. “I did that along with the rest of the commission, and I really have no further comment regarding my no vote at this time.”
Ward’s inability to speak to the press, based on the advice of the commission’s attorneys, contradicts voters’ intentions for an open and transparent redistricting process.
Propositions 11 and 20, the two initiatives that created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, both state in Section 2 (d): “Every aspect of this process will be open to scrutiny by the public and the press.”
The commission’s Code of Conduct, which is “considered binding on any person serving the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in any capacity,” also requires commissioners to “disclose information that belongs in the public domain freely and completely.”
A commission spokesman failed to directly answer whether litigation prevented some commissioners from speaking to the press.
“At this time no litigation has been filed,” Rob Wilcox, the commission’s communications director, explained via email. “Commissioners will continue to speak to the press, with requests coordinated through the commission’s communications director and legal counsel.”
Legal scholar John Eastman said government officials can be restricted from speaking to the press and public about matters related to their jobs.
“The Supreme Court held in the Garcetti v. Cedillos case that the First Amendment doesn’t include the right to speak as a public employee on matters within your job duties,” explained Dr. Eastman, the Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service and former Dean of Chapman University School of Law. “By extension, I would think the commission could constitutionally adopt such a rule to bind itself.”
But, Eastman added, the legislative intent language of the redistricting initiatives “would certainly lend support to an argument” that redistricting commissioners could speak to the press about their vote.
On July 29, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission approved the final draft maps for California’s state legislative districts on a 13-1 vote, with Ward dissenting. Commissioner Jodie Filkins Webber, a Republican from Norco, joined Ward in opposing the state’s new boundaries for the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The only clues to Ward’s dissenting vote come from his statement during last week’s open session on July 29. He said, “I voted for Propositions 11 and 20; I believed they afforded a historic opportunity to take politics and special interest out of determining the representational assignment of cities, counties and neighborhoods. I do not believe the process this commission chose to construct successfully accomplished that expectation in spirit or practice. In my opinion, the commission failed to fulfill its mandate to strictly apply the constitutional criteria, inconsistently applied race and ‘community of interest’ criteria and sought to diminish dissenting viewpoints.”
In recent weeks, CalWatchDog.com ran an exclusive series of articles exposing the political activities, campaign contributions and special interest connections of two redistricting commissioners, all of which were never disclosed to the commission or uncovered during State Auditor Elaine Howle’s background checks.
Commissioner Gabino T. Aguirre failed to disclose multiple political campaign contributions to Democratic candidates or his extensive connections to a special interest group, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, which has submitted its own redistricting proposals to the commission.
Based on the CalWatchDog.com revelations, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro called on Aguirre to resign from the post for “gross misconduct in office.” Del Beccaro questioned the fairness of a commission that failed to disclose the political activism of its members.
CalWatchDog.com also first reported on four campaign contributions made within the past eighteen months by Commissioner Jeanne Raya’s business to a state political action committee. Campaign finance watchdogs have criticized the failure to disclose the business contributions valued at $1,000.
June 19, 2013