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Did California just take a big step toward political sanity?

California's gerrymandered political districts have been a primary cause of the state's partisan gridlock, experts say. New, nonpartisan redistricting maps released Friday could help.

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California's attempts to overcome a decade of political dysfunction took another step Friday, when the final version of newly redrawn legislative and congressional districts were released to the public.

Political experts have long blamed a significant part of the political gridlock in California on the partisan way that legislative districts were drawn. With most districts either strongly Democratic or strongly Republican, legislators were encouraged to play their party's extremes to be reelected.

The Citizen Redistricting Commission that spent seven months drawing the new maps has gone some way toward solving that problem, political experts say. Though the maps may slightly help Democrats – perhaps even giving them enough seats to claim supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature – the new districts are more competitive than the current ones.

“I can’t see a partisan agenda in these maps if there is one,” says Eric McGhee, a redistricting expert at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The greater complaint is likely to come from ethnic groups, particularly Hispanics, which suggest the new districts diminish their political clout by diluting their numbers. There will actually be fewer Latino-heavy districts under the new plan than there are now – despite the fact that Latinos have accounted for 90 percent of the state's population growth during the past decade, says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

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