he California legislature passed a reapportionment plan today that is expected to cost the Republicans at least five congressional seats in the next election.
Democrats, who control the legislature, described the plan as an audacious display of political artistry by its drafter, Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.).
Burton said his plan looks good "if you look at the savaging throughout the country" of Democratic members of Congress who have been at what he called the mercy of Republican redistricters in states like Washington, Colorado and Indiana.
The redistricting plan, which now goes to the governor for his expected signature, appears to protect Burton's closest Democratic friends and punish his Republican adversaries.
One district is engineered to protect Burton's younger brother, Rep. John L. Burton, by including Democratic areas all the way around San Francisco Bay.
"Oh, it's gorgeous," Phillip Burton told a news conference in describing his brother's district. "It curls in and out like a snake."
Nonetheless, Burton called his creation a "Boy Scout" plan that follows the criteria for good government and logical redistricting.
California's delegation, which is now composed of 22 Democrats and 21 Republicans, would see five current members put into head-to-head confrontations with members of their own party.
Those include Republican John H. Rousselot of San Marino, whom Burton put into the same district as Carlos J. Moorhead, of Glendale.
Republican Bobbi Fiedler is moved into a district with Barry Goldwater Jr., who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate. Fiedler's present district has been restyled for Democratic success, with the likely successor being Howard Berman of Los Angeles, currently an assemblyman.
The seat now held by Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R) has been tailored for Democratic Assemblyman Mel Levine, of Santa Monica. Burton added 9 percent more Democrats to the district for a 56 percent Democratic majority.
California will pick up two new seats as a result of population growth since 1970, which will bring the size of the delegation to 45. Altogether, the changes in district lines are expected to swell Democratic ranks to as many as 28 members and shrivel the GOP to 17 members.
California's Republican members are furious.
"I have never seen so many weird districts," said Rousselot.
"Phil Burton never once showed me a single map," said Rep. William M. Thomas, of Bakersfield, the Republican congressional reapportionment chief.
"This is an attempt to protect his brother first, protect his friends second and put everyone else last, including the voters," Thomas told reporters. "He is trying to do through redistricting what Democrats can't do at the polls."
Republicans in both houses of the California legislature, vowing to "kick over the table" if Democrats did not come up with what they felt was an equitable reapportionment plan, say they intend to use California's referendum process to reverse the Democratic gains. To do so, Republicans must gather the signatures of 324,000 voters within 90 days.
That would put a referendum asking the state's voters to reject the reapportionment plan on next June's ballot at the earliest, unless Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. calls for a special election. Since Brown is a Democrat, it is considered extremely unlikely that he will do so.
Assembly Democrats say privately they are confident they would win any confrontation at the ballot box on the referendum, at least partly, they say, because few voters know anything about or care anything about the redistricting plans.
Other districts altered by Burton include the San Francisco peninsula district of Republican Paul McCloskey, who is not seeking reelection and who is expected to run along with Goldwater against Sen. S. I. Hayakawa next year in the Republican primary. The new "McCloskey" district would run all the way from the heavily metropolitan area of Palo Alto out into the flat farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley. That seat is designed for an as-yet-undesignated Democrat.
Democrat Ronald V. Dellums, who is black, is expected to solidify his political position by retaining his overwhelmingly black East San Francisco Bay area and pulling in additional voters from the East Oakland area. By contrast, newcomer Republican Norman Shumway was given a district that runs all the way from the Oregon border to the midsection of California with only a finger that sweeps out to pick up two Democratic-dominated cities and turns Shumway's district into one tailored for the other party.