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Stockton redistricting commissioner Michelle DiGuilio feels satisfaction in work

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Michelle DiGuilio

Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:57 am, Wed Jul 20, 2011.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which voters asked to redraw legislative district lines instead of the Legislature, is repairing the damage that legislators inflicted in what Stockton commissioner Michelle DiGuilio considers gerrymandered districts 10 years ago.

“I joke that we’re not doing redistricting; we’re doing ‘districting’ — Districting 101,” DiGuilio said, while waiting for two of her children to complete day camp on Tuesday at Micke Grove Zoo.

As far as she’s concerned, the commission is starting from scratch, correcting what she considers abuses in the system in 2001, which included Lodi being in the same congressional district as the San Ramon Valley and Morgan Hill.

DiGuilio is enthusiastically trying to develop a system where federal and state representatives will be more responsive to the cities and counties in the district.

The commission is wrapping up its work on proposed legislative maps for the 80 Assembly, 40 State Senate, 53 Congressional and four state Board of Equalization districts in California. Five commissioners are Republicans, and five are Democrats. DiGuilio, who says she is disenchanted with both major parties, is one of four commissioners registered as Decline to State.

“I feel they are more responsive to their parties than to their constituents,” DiGuilio said. “I think that’s pretty evident.”

DiGuilio spends a lot of time away from home, so much lately that her husband has been a virtual single dad. She was once on the road for 12 days, and because of frequent meetings in Sacramento, she’s away from home from 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m.

“It’s been physically and mentally intense for the last couple of months,” she said. “I’m looking forward to returning to my life of anonymity.”

Despite her hectic schedule, DiGuilio appeared rested and relaxed while sitting on a bench in front of Micke Grove Zoo on Tuesday morning. She showed a dry sense of humor, as evidenced by the decision to give her four children a hyphenated last name — her maiden name and her husband’s surname.

“We were brutal,” she quipped. “They can take it up with their therapist.”

Then DiGuilio added, “We’re not saving for their college education. We’re saving for therapy.”

In a more serious moment, DiGuilio said she considers herself an apolitical person who applied for the redistricting commission as a civic duty. The commission was formed after voters approved Proposition 11 on the November 2008 ballot. The measure stripped the Legislature of its authority to draw district lines and handed it over to a nonpartisan independent commission.

DiGuilio, who supported Proposition 11, noted that she had many of the qualifications required for the commission. She said she’s an “ordinary citizen,” has good analytical skills, is impartial and knows California’s geography and ethnic diversity, she said.

Those qualities prompted her to apply because she said it’s better to do something positive than just sit and complain about the system.

The commission will basically finish its work during meetings Thursday through Saturday so that mapmakers can complete their work. The final proposed maps are scheduled to be released on July 28 and approved by the commission on Aug. 15.

“I think we really tried to balance all the communities of interest,” DiGuilio said. “There is no perfect map in isolation, but I think it will be perfect for California.”

DiGuilio said that residents throughout the state improved their attitudes after the first round of proposed maps were released in June. She said that critics of the boundary proposals needed to come up with a solution as well.

“I am the mother of four small kids, and I hear whining all day long,” DiGuilio told the News-Sentinel in June.

“It’s gotten better,” DiGuilio said on Tuesday. “People are used to a system of who squeaks the loudest gets the grease. They started to provide options for solutions.”

DiGuilio emphasized that although she is a Stockton resident, she represents the entire state from Del Norte to Imperial county, not just San Joaquin County.

“I haven’t met her, but I have to believe that the maps have improved dramatically (since June),” said Republican activist Dean Andal, of Stockton, who once served in the Assembly and Board of Equalization. “Keeping San Joaquin County whole would not have happened without her.

“From what I’ve heard from other people, she seems like a good and honest person,” Andal added. “I think she’s tried to do a good job in her view of the world. I appreciate her public service.”

Though the commission’s work is basically done on Aug. 15, DiGuilio expects lawsuits to be filed by people who don’t like the final maps.

“If we only have one, we’ll be lucky,” she said.

Any lawsuits filed will be heard quickly, because Proposition 11 calls for them to go directly to the California Supreme Court.

In addition to the satisfaction DiGuilio feels from serving on the commission, she learned about several vacation spots from her commission colleagues, who often talk about lakes, restaurants and hidden jewels where they live.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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