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What Tulare County Supervisor Redistricting Could Mean For Latino Voters

Tulare County
Tulare County's Supervisorial Districts

Currently, four out of the five Board of Supervisor districts in Tulare County have a majority Latino population. On the surface, it looks like Latinos should be well represented. But dig a little deeper and the story changes.   

“What you have in Tulare and in many other communities in the Central Valley are small farmworker communities where many of the residents are not U.S citizens and if they are U.S citizens they’re not necessarily registered to vote,” says Jesus Garcia, a local demographic consultant.

Garcia is working with the Dolores Huerta Foundation to convince the county to redraw the districts before the 2020 election.

Tulare County has been rethinking its supervisorial district lines since the threat of a lawsuit by the foundation and Melo and Sarsfield Law group. Nothing has been filed in court yet, but it might come to that if all parties can't come to an agreement outside of court.

Garcia says only one district in Tulare County has a majority of eligible and registered Latino voters.

He analyzed the County’s supervisor districts by looking at three sets of data: The citizen voting age population, voter participation and registration, and the total population.

“So it’s a combination of these three that will tell you the likelihood that if you were to draw a district of a certain size and certain location that an ethnic person or one that is amenable to the needs of the voters could get elected,” Garcia says.

It’s possible in Tulare County to create two districts that not only have a majority Latino population, Garcia says, but would also have a majority of eligible and registered Latino voters.

Tulare County has historically elected white representatives on the board, and residents have expressed their frustrations of not feeling heard or adequately represented.

“That’s the reason why the Dolores Huerta Foundation started talks with the county,” says Camila Chavez, the foundation's executive director. “And that the purpose of all of this is to give the Latino community a fair opportunity to elect members that reflect their community. And for years, disenfranchised communities have been unable to elect a fair representative.”

The foundation has been instrumental in leading the fight in redistricting in the South Valley. They were involved in the lawsuit that got Kern County's Board of Supervisors to redistrict and with getting the Kern High School District to agree to redistrict.

Chavez says she hopes the foundation and Tulare County will come to an agreement outside of court.

“We are in talks and the county did admit to needing to redraw the lines," Chavez says. "We do have the pressure though of the upcoming 2020 election and so we want to ensure that the redistricting could happen and give us enough time so that there will be new districts in place for the next general election.”

If the county doesn’t agree to redistrict before 2020, Chavez says it’s “likely” the foundation will sue.

But the county’s public information officer, Carrie Monteiro, says the board wants to wait until the new U.S. Census data comes out in 2020.

“Our board better feels that, ‘Let’s go through the process here in a couple years versus take a year to do the process of redistricting just to then be legally triggered by a census to do it again,'" Monteiro says.

And there already is some diversity on the board, Monteiro says. One Latino has been on the board for two years and another Latino candidate was just elected in June. Monteiro also says the process of redistricting takes up a lot of county funds and staff time -- and that affects other programs.

But if a lawsuit is filed will the county fight it?

“I cannot answer that at this time," Monterio says. "We will take careful consideration of the matter if a lawsuit is ever presented to us and act in the best way that everyone is involved and in the best way that benefits the people of Tulare County.”

The last time district lines were drawn in Tulare County was in 2011. Phil Cox is on the Visalia City Council but was on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors at that time. He was chairman of the board and says they did a lot of outreach to small communities around the county before drawing the districts.

“Cutler, Orosi, Dinuba, Pixley, Terra Bella, all of the little communities, most of them that were not cities -  we actually had meetings there and did outreach in both English and Spanish," Cox says.

He believes the current districts are fair -- and there’s no need to draw them again immediately. And, he says, redistricting won’t guarantee Latino candidates will run.

“There’s actually been very few Hispanic people run for the Board of Supervisors," Cox says.

Garcia says that may be true, for the meantime.

“Just because we create a supervisor district does not mean a person of color is going to run and win. That’s not the case here. Our goal is to create districts of opportunity," Garcia says.

He says he wants Latino kids to grow up in districts where they feel they have some agency, and eventually, that could lead to a diverse board.

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.