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Thousands - mostly white men - apply to redraw district lines

Only a few brave Californians have expressed interest in being governor of a state that many believe is ungovernable.

Yet there has been no shortage of enthusiasm among those seeking a spot on a virtually unknown state panel - the first-ever Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Some 25,802 Californians have applied to be one of 14 members on the commission, which will draw boundaries for Assembly, state Senate and the Board of Equalization voting districts. All have been deemed eligible to serve by the State Auditor, giving them a 1 in 1914 chance of being selected.

The commission was created by Proposition 11, approved by voters in November 2008, in the hope that politics will be removed from the drawing of Legislative district lines. The current process - conducted by the Legislature every decade - ends up creating only a handful of truly competitive seats between Democrats and Republicans. This is the first time that California citizens will be asked to redraw the boundaries.

Just who are these citizens who are so eager to participate in what will probably be an eye-glazing undertaking, and for which they will receive a $300 a day stipend? 

They come from all over the state -- but they're hardly representative of California. Nearly two thirds are male. Seventy percent are white. Just over 10 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are Asian.

So far, the applicants have had to meet some very basic requirements - such as whether they voted in at least two of the last three statewide general elections, have been a member of the same political party for at least five years, and don't violate several conflict of interest rules.

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Those still remaining will go through a complicated process, involving public meetings and comments, screening by Democratic and Republican leaders, and a final selection by the State Auditor Elaine Howell that will whittle the pool down to eight members. Those eight members will select the final six members to the commission. 

All of this will has to be wrapped up by December 31, so that the districts are in place by the fall of 2011. The cost of this exercise? Proposition 11 calls for the Legislature to appropriate at least $3 million now - and every decade thereafter.

The initiative was spearheaded by California Common Cause, and is intended to set up districts that make sense on demographic and geographic lines, not political ones. For example, it specifies that, "to the extent practicable," new districts follow city, town and county boundaries, keep census tracts intact, and preserve "similarities in social, cultural, ethnic, and economic interest, school districts, and other formal relationships between municipalities."

Using election data, the commission will be required to draw up competitive districts, again to the extent possible.

Regardless of the odds of making it on to the panel, it's remarkable that 25,000-plus Californians want to participate. What is not yet clear is how much this change will contribute to the major political restructuring that many believe the state desperately needs.

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