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New data indicate California will keep its congressional clout

February 4, 2010 |  1:45 pm
Finally, some good news from back in Washington. Maybe.

Some have fretted that California will lose one of its 53 House seats when the nation’s congressional map is redrawn after the 2010 census. Apart from the symbolic blow (a further tarnishing of the Golden State, blah, blah, blah), there are practical effects of losing one more voice in our nation’s capital ($$$).

However, new projections from the nonpartisan number-crunching folks at Polidata suggest California will hang on to its 53rd seat, though it may be close.

Polidata took 2009 census data and projected the numbers forward to April 1, the official census date. Based on those calculations, California will be awarded the 433rd of 435 House seats. The number of senators -- two per state, regardless of population -- won’t change.

That whoosh you hear is an exhalation of relief from California’s 53 incumbents. If the state loses a seat, it would weaken its clout in Washington and undoubtedly cost us millions in federal funds. (Never mind all the griping you hear about California missing out on its fair share as is.)

Worse, for the politicos involved, the loss of a seat could end up pitting one sitting lawmaker against another, something avoided under the back-scratching, incumbent-protection plan that members of Congress cooked up after the last reapportionment in 2001. As it is, there are likely to be some hard feelings among legislators as their districts are redrawn to account for population shifts within the state.

None of this is certain until the final count is completed. “There have always been variations from the pre-census estimates,” said Tom Hofeller, the GOP’s leading reapportionment expert, though usually only a seat or two. “It just depends on how well everyone is counted relative to other states.”

Of course, this being California and times being what they are, all this has to be considered good news in the relative sense.

For the first time since statehood, California will not gain a single House seat. The big winner in 2011, when reapportionment begins, is likely to be Texas, the nation’s second-most populous state, which could pick up as many as four seats.

-- Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco