Redistricting Commission criticized for recent appointment of Kevin Kaseff

Some conservatives are criticizing the Santa Barbara County Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission and the process it used to select a white Democrat to fill a recently vacated seat instead of a Latino Republican. 

click to enlarge Redistricting Commission criticized for recent appointment of Kevin Kaseff
CHANGING FACES : At a virtual meeting on June 2, the Redistricting Commission voted 8-2 to appoint Santa Ynez Valley resident Kevin Kaseff to represent District 3, a seat that was left open after James “Chris” Hudley resigned from the position in April to accept a job outside of Santa Barbara County.

At a meeting on June 2, the Redistricting Commission voted 8-2 to appoint Santa Ynez Valley resident Kevin Kaseff to represent District 3, a seat that was left open after James “Chris” Hudley resigned from the position in April to accept a job outside of Santa Barbara County. 

Hudley’s resignation left the Redistricting Commission short on Democrats and without its only Black member. With a pool of all Republicans and a single white Democrat available to take his place, the commission, which is supposed to reflect the demographics of Santa Barbara County, was once again faced with a difficult decision.

Andrea Sheridan Ordin, legal counsel for the Redistricting Commission, said commissioners would have to decide whether accurate racial or political representation is prioritized in Measure G, an ordinance Santa Barbara County voters passed in 2018 that enabled the creation of the Redistricting Commission.

“If I had to weigh it—because of the extent to which the people who drafted this ordinance were concerned about a balance of partisanship, thinking that might get to more impartiality—if there is a greater weight, it appears to be on the side of partisanship,” Sheridan Ordin said at the meeting. “But you cannot ignore either how important they thought it was to ensure that the commission reflects the county’s diversity, including racial, ethnic, geographic, age, and gender diversity.”

The use of a redistricting commission is an attempt to create districts that will better represent the county’s current population based on new census data, but the Redistricting Commission selection process has been under fire since October 2020, when Registrar of Voters Joseph Holland released his list of the 45 most qualified candidates chosen from about 200 applicants. Community members from across the county, including 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, complained that Holland’s selection process had “created a skewed pool that is old, white, and male.”

The first five commissioners—four white men and one white woman—were randomly chosen from Holland’s pool of 45 and responsible for filling the commission’s remaining six seats.

To accurately parallel the county’s demographics, the first five members would have had to choose five women and one man to fill the remaining six seats, including five Latino members, one Asian, Black, or Native American member; one Republican; three members under the age of 45, and two over 75. The Redistricting Commission initially ended up with just one Republican and only two Latinos, leading to a legal threat from the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in December 2020.

When a vacancy occurs on the commission, Measure G requires commissioners to select a replacement member who will maintain the balance of district representation and political affiliation that existed prior to the vacancy. 

But a replacement has to be chosen out of the already existing pool of 45 applicants, and in this case, the choice was ultimately between Lupe Alvarez, a Republican Latino from Guadalupe, and Kevin Kaseff, a white Democrat from the Santa Ynez Valley. 

Commissioner Cheryl Trosky, who voted against Kaseff’s appointment to the commission along with Commissioner Amanda Ochoa, said that while she understands the need for partisan balance, ethnic demographics should be prioritized. She also added that Kaseff, who withdrew from consideration for the position in May only to change his mind again just before the June meeting, might not be the most consistent applicant. She called Alvarez “the only choice.”  

“How will this look to the Hispanic community if, once again, we overlook a qualified candidate that is Hispanic, that represents the North County, that speaks for people that don’t have a voice?” Trosky said. “And how are we going to get these people to be involved—how will they want to be involved—when we yet again vote another white male to the commission?” 

Other commissioners, however, questioned Alvarez’s ability to make unbiased decisions. Several mentioned a 2010 Sun article detailing Alvarez’s attendance and participation in an election night party for 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, which several commissions said could be considered a conflict of interest. 

“First and foremost, our qualifications need to be that we’re impartial and I think that this is, in my opinion, one of the most direct lines to a connection to a current supervisor and that makes me very uncomfortable,” Commissioner Megan Turley said. 

But because Kaseff had originally withdrawn his application for the Redistricting Commission position, only to change his mind after the agenda for the June 2 meeting had been posted, commissioners selected Kaseff through a special meeting on the same night as the regular June 2 meeting.   

Andy Caldwell, executive director of The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB), took issue with that. He complained in a newsletter and a June 5 Facebook post that Kaseff was chosen through an illegal and “purely political” process aimed at avoiding the selection of another Republican. 

“What to do?” Caldwell wrote in his newsletter. “They illegally called for an ‘emergency meeting’ within the regular meeting and a miracle occurred! A Democrat that had previously withdrawn from the applicant pool miraculously reappeared to reapply and surprise, surprise. The raised-from-the-dead applicant was subsequently appointed to fill the position! I wonder who made that happen?”

But Shalice Tilton, a senior consultant with National Demographics Corporation, which handles demography and administrative services for the Independent Redistricting Commission, said the joint special and regular meeting was completely lawful and adequately noticed. 

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