In 1985, after then 25-year-old Chris Holden lost to
Loretta Thompson-Glickman in the Pasadena City Council District 3 election, his father, onetime Democratic state Sen. and longtime Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, and former LA County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, whom the elder Holden started in politics with as a field deputy, offered some sage advice that still resonates.
Apparently Holden’s role models had bigger plans for the up-and-comer, designs that at the time could have easily stretched beyond the borders of Pasadena for the sports standout and San Diego State University graduate, because they encouraged him not to get too down on himself.
“Dad and Kenny Hahn both told me after I lost that it is not where you serve, it is how you serve,” Holden said in a recent interview with the Weekly. “Once you understand that, you make life better for people, and that is what ultimately counts.”
Holden decided to run for office again in Pasadena, finally beating Thompson-Glickman in 1989. But today, after serving 22 years on the Pasadena City Council, the now 50-year-old Holden — a former student government leader at Pasadena High School who led the Bulldogs to two state basketball championships — feels it’s time to move on.
The only problem is now — with two more years remaining in his council term and state political boundaries currently being reconfigured by a special board mandated by voters in 2008 — neither Holden nor anyone else is exactly sure which communities he would be serving.
As he begins his campaign for the 44th District Assembly seat currently held by Democrat Anthony Portantino, who terms out of office next year, state and federal political boundaries are being reconfigured. This typically rancorous process, once conducted by partisan state legislators, is required every decade to reflect new population data compiled by the US Census.
And at this point, no one is quite sure what the local political landscape will look like come mid-August, including Portantino, who will likely be running for Congress against Republican Rep. David Dreier of San Dimas in a newly redrawn 26th Congressional District east of here, as well as Holden and many political experts.
“You need a crystal ball to explain it,” said veteran Pasadena political consultant Fred Register. “The best thing that could happen to Chris is a district that is very heavily Democratic, one very similar to the current district. The worst that can happen is a district that splits up [Democratic strongholds] Pasadena and Altadena and brings in areas where he is less well known and there is an incumbent.”
First time for everyone
Up until now, both of those ideas and proposals to change county and municipal political boundaries have been proposed at various levels of government. At the state and federal levels, this is the first time those lines will not be drawn by lawmakers in Sacramento. This decade, decisions are being made by the bi-partisan California Redistricting Commission, created by state voters in November 2008 as part of Proposition 11. The 14-member commission — comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who decline to state their political affiliations — must complete its work by Aug. 15.
Early proposals for the 44th Assembly District, which currently includes Altadena, Pasadena, Duarte, East Pasadena La Cañada Flintridge, Mayflower Village, South Pasadena and portions of Temple City, Arcadia, Monrovia and Los Angeles, have included removing Altadena from the district and linking Pasadena with much more Republican-leaning Burbank and Glendale.
“The changes have not been incremental,” Register said. “They have tended to go this way or that way. There was one where Altadena was not together. In the last one I saw, they seemed to heed the desire by people to keep the community together. I heard from some people in Sacramento that there is an option on the table that could split Pasadena.”
“I certainly have my eye on it, like everyone else,” Holden told the Weekly. His District 3 council seat will also be up for review and possible boundary changes; but these adjustments would be made by a local task force formed every 10 years to make sure population growth does not exclude any groups from the political process. That recently appointed board, headed by former Councilman Bill Crowfoot, has not yet set a date for its first meeting.
Also for the first time, Pasadena Unified School District elections will be conducted on a district basis, as opposed to at-large elections for all seven seats. Another citizens’ panel is currently working on that.
When it comes to state political lines, “I think [the state redistricting commission] has made it very clear they are an independent group, and it appears they are taking comments seriously,” said Holden. “The last vision statement I saw had Altadena and Pasadena back together again. I don’t know if it will stay that way. What they come up with next week could be radically different, and it could change seven more times by August. But, at some point, they have to make their way to the finishing line. This is the first time for every-body on this one, but I am hopeful.”
Some doors open …
Those lines could cause some politicians to move their homes and families. For instance, Portantino, a former mayor of La Cañada Flintridge, has announced that he is prepared to make his home in Covina if an East San Gabriel-Covina district develops. This news could spell trouble for Republican Dreier, who has represented the once heavily Republican district for nearly three decades.
So far, Holden said he has surpassed his goal of raising $125,000, taking in nearly $134,000. “At this point, it is not likely that I would move,” Holden said.
“It was thought that redistricting was going to lead to the election of more moderate candidates from both sides, and that is not necess-arily going to be the outcome,”
said former congressional candidate and Pasadena Weekly columnist Barry Gordon. “A lot of people may have to move. A politician will go where the district is.”
The Assembly election will be held in November 2012, four months before city elections in Holden’s District 3. The last time Holden lost an election was in 1999 to Bill Bogaard in the race for the city’s first elected mayor in decades. Bogaard has also held onto his seat since taking office, and some political insiders believe Holden has been waiting for Bogaard to step down before seeking that seat again. That rumor, said Holden, the last council-appointed mayor and its first black male mayor, is not true.
“I will be 51 this year,” Holden said. “A lot of people are just getting into politics and I am into my 23rd year. In terms of my activity, unelected and elected, I have been around for about 28 years. Hopefully, I still have a lot of time to go. I think Bill has done a great job, but the future is still open. Sometimes in life, certain doors open and others close.”
While Holden said he’s accomplished much during his time on the council, there remains much to do.
“I would say the hardest thing is feeling like you can’t do as much for as many as you would like,” Holden said. “That there are some expectations we have not met. There are occasions when you feel as though you could have done more. I wish we had done more with affordable housing. There are so many people who leave because they cannot afford to live here, and when you see how that affects the diversity in the community and the public schools, it has been disappointing not being able to figure out how to do more,” Holden said.
If he is elected to the Assembly, Holden knows much work lies ahead. “We’re a high-service state with high expectations for the system to provide services at a high level, but the people have very low interest in paying for it in taxes that create the revenue that helps us accomplish some of the goals,” Holden said. “We still have to look at reforms to the system, because people are paying a lot in taxes. We are putting a lot out, but where is it going? We need to think in terms of what is our priority, and we need to make sure we can fully fund the high-priority items, like health care, public education and public safety — young, old and poor need to be taken care of.”
For proposed state and federal political boundaries, visit wedrawthelines.ca.gov/viewer.html
For proposed LA County political boundary changes, visit http://file.lacounty.gov/compub/
For Pasadena redistricting information, visit http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/cityclerk/redistricting/roster.asp