CARSON CITY -- Hispanics in Nevada won't have a congressional district where they would make up a majority of the population under a proposal by a court-appointed panel.
Maps of the panel's proposal, released Friday, show a nearly 43 percent Hispanic population in Congressional District 1 in Clark County's urban core. The seat is now held by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is running for U.S. Senate.
The goal of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Republican legislators and their party's lawyers for most of the year had been to create one Hispanic congressional district and as many as 12 Hispanic-majority state legislative districts. Democrats had argued Hispanic districts were not needed to elect Hispanics, who usually vote Democratic, and that the Republican plans would dilute the influence of Hispanics.
The panel largely bought that idea.
District Judge James T. Russell, who appointed the panel of special masters, said in an order that the panel decided "bloc voting by the white majority was not shown to usually defeat a minority's preferred candidate" and, therefore, rejected a Hispanic majority district for Congress.
And only four of the 42 legislative districts have Hispanic majority under the panel's plan.
Democrats are almost guaranteed to win at least two of the four congressional seats drawn by the panel. Republicans have a solid lead in only one district, while the fourth is slightly Democratic, but close enough for either party to win.
In the redrawn District 1, Democrats hold a huge 52 percent to 25 percent registered voter advantage. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas, already has announced his candidacy, and former Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also could run in this district.
Democrats also hold a big 13 percentage-point registration advantage in the new Congressional District 4 . With such big registration edges, that means Democratic candidates probably will emerge victorious in these two districts in the 2012 general election.
Republicans, however, have only one solid seat: Congressional District 2, now held by Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. The GOP holds a 7 percentage point registration advantage over Democrats.
But in the redrawn Congressional District 3 in southern Clark County now held by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., Democrats have less than a 3 percentage point registration advantage, holding a 40 percent to 37 percent edge.
Heck, however, won last year though Democrats already hold a 30,000 registered voter lead in the district.
A source in the Democrat Party, who requested anonymity, said the panel largely followed his party's views on redistricting.
"I bet there are a lot of unhappy Republicans out there," the source said.
But Las Vegas lawyer Mark Hutchison, who has represented the Republican Party in redistricting litigation, did not look at the panel's plan as a defeat for Republicans.
While not creating a majority Hispanic congressional district, Hutchison said, panel members kept intact the Las Vegas' Hispanic community of interest.
With a population that is nearly 43 percent Hispanic, a Hispanic candidate has a good chance of winning the District 1 election and becoming the first person of that ethnic background elected to Congress from Nevada, he said.
State Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, did not have time to review the congressional districts in detail but was pleased the special masters largely followed Democrats' ideas.
"We didn't think we needed to have a (Hispanic) majority to win," said Denis, a Hispanic who probably will be Democratic leader of the Senate in the next session. "We want to have influence in all districts."
But there were some major surprises.
The new Congressional District 4 includes parts of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas -- and all the rural counties in the southern half of the state: Nye, Lincoln, Esmeralda, Mineral, White Pine and part of Lyon.
During public hearings Monday and Tuesday where more than 30 people testified, no one suggested to the panel that the new Clark County-based district should extend beyond much more than Pahrump and White Pine and Lincoln counties, areas where residents gravitate toward Las Vegas for shopping and business.
State Sen. Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, is an announced candidate in this new district, and even with the rural flavor of the district, Democrats still hold a 46 percent to 33 percent registration advantage over Republicans.
Republicans have a solid majority only in the new Congressional District 2 -- which takes up Washoe County and the entire northern half of the state. They have a 42 percent to 35 percent registration advantage over Democrats. A Democrat never has won the seat.
The release Friday of the new congressional and legislative district maps by Russell was unexpected.
He had given the special masters -- Las Vegas lawyer Thomas Sheets, Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover and former Legislative Counsel Bureau research director Bob Erickson -- until Oct. 21 to finish their work. Russell also had scheduled a Nov. 16 hearing in his Carson City courtroom to accept or reject the maps.
But because of the quick work by the panel, Russell on Friday rescheduled the November hearing to 9 a.m. Oct. 27.
"The judge was really rocking and rolling," said Hutchison, who is convinced Russell wants a quick resolution of redistricting matters so maps will be in place for next year's election.
Still there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will approve the panel's work.
In response to a lawsuit by Secretary of State Ross Miller, the court has scheduled a Nov. 14 hearing to decide whether the courts, the panel or the Legislature should handle redistricting.
In an order, the court said that it was the constitutional duty of the Legislature, following every federal census, to adjust election districts for changes in the population. Because of its growth, Nevada received a fourth seat in Congress.
The Legislature failed to complete redistricting work before the session adjourned June 7. Twice Sandoval vetoed Democrat-passed bills.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900.