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The political landscape in California is changing thanks to efforts of IBA West member Jeanne Raya, John L Raya Insurance Agency, San Gabriel and a small group of dedicated citizens who spent more than a year drawing up new legislative districts based on the 2010 census data.
Dubbed, “A New Experiment in Direct Democracy,” the commission was really a labor of love said Raya who was making plans to attend a meeting this week to vote on the final maps when we spoke with her this week.
Raya began her journey more than a year and a half ago when she decided to apply for a position on the commission.
“This was a historic effort,” said Raya. “I was excited by the opportunity to do something really different and make a lasting contribution.”
Raya was selected by a lottery set up by the state audit bureau from over 30,000 applications.
“It was an intense vetting process including a financial review as well as 90 minute personal interview,” said Raya.
Raya, a partner in the agency founded by her father in 1960 and a member of IBA West since 1929, has a long resume of civic involvement. Trained as a teacher and a lawyer she served as staff counsel for the Board of Equalization and the Public Employment Relations Board. In private law practice for 14 years, Raya specialized in Family Law and Probate. She also served as President of the California La Raza Lawyers Association, as a member of the Committee of Bar Examiners and as President of the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce. Raya was inspired by her father, who was one of the first Latinos to run for public office in San Gabriel Valley and was instrumental in desegregating the school district.
Serving on the commission was like having two full-time jobs explained Raya. The commission conducted over 30 public meetings that would start at 9 a.m. and end a 9 p.m. plus there was extensive reading required of each commissioner. Raya said she would meet with clients during the day and do her commission work at night.
Raya was quick to thank her staff at the agency, and her partner, Cindy Uehara, in particular, who were enormously helpful in allowing her to away from the office doing the commission’s work.
“ I almost quit,” said Raya, explaining further, “a lot happened last year, our agency celebrated its 50th anniversary and my father passed way.” Proud that she able to serve the state, Raya said she would never again drive through a community without appreciating and understanding its natural and cultural boundaries.
“We would start every meeting with public comments and people would bring us maps and present their suggestions. This is democracy, this is what people want, access to decision-makers, “ said Raya.
At one meeting Raya said a teacher brought his class of young students all of whom has prepared remarks for the commission.
“I have tremendous respect for the people of California,” said Raya who hopes that more people will become inspired and energized to participate in the political process.
If you want to see the work of the commission, click here to visit their website to view the maps. You can also check out the map viewing tools created by the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times depicting the differences between the old and new district boundaries.