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Redistricting Reform

News Articles on Redistricting Reform and Prop. 11 Implementation

Redistricting: This time around, where is the Burton team?

By Tim Hodson, Capitol Weekly, January 28, 2010


Every 10 years, following the federal census, boundaries of House districts must be adjusted to ensure, among other things, population equality. This redistricting process is the responsibility of state legislatures – not the Congress. But starting in 1960, California effectively ceded the job to Phil and John Burton and their allies. Phil Burton had an encyclopedic knowledge of the state’s political geography and a personality that brooked no opposition. As an Asssemblymember, he oversaw the 1961 redistricting. By 1971, Burton was in the House but nonetheless single handedly drafted the Congressional plan, though he graciously allowed the Assembly and Senate to draw their own districts. His work came to naught after Governor Ronald Reagan’s vetoes sent the job to the state Supreme Court imposing its own plans. Burton came back with a vengeance in 1981 when the Assembly and the Senate passed his plan without ever seeing the actual maps. By 1991, Phil Burton had passed but his brother John and staunch allies, Willie Brown and the Berman brothers of Los Angeles (Howard the Congressman and Michael Phil’s redistricting protégé) were firmly in control of Congressional redistricting. Thanks to Pete Wilson’s vetoes, the Court again intervened, but the 2001 redistricting was another successful Burton production. This time it was brother John as the Senate Pro Tem hiring Michael Berman for the job. The Assembly went along and Michael dutifully protected the DC delegation, Republican and Democrat alike. (full story)

Few minorities applying for redistricting panel

By Jacob Adelman, Associated Press, January 26, 2010


An important effort to redraw legislative districts in California and shake up the political landscape seems to be missing one important element — minorities.

State officials are weeks away from beginning to select members of a 14-person commission that voters decided should reshape the state's Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts.

So far, fewer than a quarter of the applications they've received are from minority candidates in a state where non-Hispanic whites make up less than half the population.

Fearing the erosion of their political power, advocacy groups are making a last-ditch effort to recruit candidates with the necessary professional reputations, leadership skills and political independence.

"This is where communities could be divided and that could in the future lessen their political clout and leave them with less than adequate representation," said Orson Aguilar, director of the Greenlining Institute, one of the groups working to boost participation in the panel among blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans.

Backers of the Proposition 11 redistricting measure narrowly passed by voters in 2008 argued that it would help end gridlock in Sacramento by stripping lawmakers of the authority to draw districts that protect incumbents on extreme ends of the partisan spectrum.

That power instead goes to a Citizens Redistricting Commission that the initiative's language stipulated would reflect the diversity of the state's racial and ethnic makeup.

However, relatively few minorities have applied to join the commission and even fewer have met the minimum requirements to be considered. Those requirements include registration with the same political party for five years and a record of voting in at least two of the last three statewide general elections.

The proportion of tentatively eligible black applicants, about 7 percent, is roughly on par with that group's 6 percent share of the population, according to state data.

Barely over 4 percent of the applicants are Asians, who make up more than 12 percent of the state's population and Hispanics make up fewer than 9 percent of the applicants, although they count for almost 37 percent of the state's population.

"You're talking about first-time voters, first-time political participation in their families," said Harry Pachon, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. "Just getting them registered is a big step because there's no family history with the American political system. Some of the more nuanced things just aren't on their radars." (full story)

Critics say redistricting panel needs diversity

Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2010


When voters were asked to approve a plan in 2008 to let private citizens instead of politicians draw legislative boundaries, supporters touted the initiative as a way to depoliticize the process and eliminate conflicts of interest, while opponents said it would create a secretive and unaccountable commission that wouldn't reflect the diversity of the state.

Now, as the state auditor moves forward with the complicated process of selecting the 14 members of the commission called for under Proposition 11, critics say their worst fears are being realized.

More than 74 percent of the 7,681 registered voters who have applied for the commission so far are non-Hispanic whites, according to the state auditor's office. Critics say the commission, whose decisions will influence Sacramento's political makeup for a decade, should reflect the racial and ethnic composition of California, which is 42 percent non-Hispanic white.

Democratic Party insiders, who opposed the initiative from the beginning, have begun collecting signatures for another ballot measure that would eliminate the commission altogether and put the redistricting process back in the hands of the Legislature.

"Nothing is in there to make the commission representative of California, or more importantly, accountable to anyone," said Daniel Lowenstein, a law professor at UCLA who is sponsoring the new measure. "People don't like the Legislature, but one advantage is that you get to vote on them every two years." (full story)

Redistricting reform struggles

By George Skelton,Los Angelos Times, January 18, 2010


Remember redistricting reform, the effort to strip from legislators the power to choose their own voters?

It's the power that leads to gerrymandering or, in effect, lawmakers rigging their own elections.

Proposition 11, sponsored by a coalition of nonpartisan good-government groups and heavily funded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, passed by a thin margin (1.8%) in November 2008. It called for creation of a 14-member independent citizens commission to draw districts for the Legislature and state Board of Equalization.

The next once-a-decade remapping will occur in 2011, and take effect with the 2012 election.

Here's an update: Things aren't going all that smoothly.

Two problems:

* Not enough women and minorities are applying for seats on the commission, officials report. The panel's pool of applicants is heavily tilted toward old white guys. There's a concerted effort underway to recruit a more diverse pool by the application deadline, Feb. 12.

* It all could be moot anyway. A small group of Democratic political insiders is trying to repeal Prop. 11 and also torpedo a sequel that would extend the redistricting reform to congressional seats. They've filed an initiative for the November ballot.

The odds are that Prop. 11 will survive. The repeal effort is blatantly cynical, and Californians probably will see through the bunkum. But this election year is unpredictable.

Meanwhile, State Auditor Elaine Howle, whom Prop. 11 placed in charge of forming the commission, is teaming with a coalition of women and minority activists in an attempt to recruit more diverse applicants.

"People just don't know about it," says Chris Carson of Burbank, redistricting honcho for the League of Women Voters of California. "And most people's eyes glaze over after about five minutes" of redistricting chat.

"The perception is that it's only for professionals. We need generalists who are strongly rooted in their communities and who have strong experience in volunteer work."

That's unfortunate in a way. It's likely that anyone who has a clue about the arcane task of redistricting -- and is at all interested -- would not qualify. The goal of Prop. 11 sponsors was to filter out people with partisan agendas. But they probably went too far.

For example, , an applicant or immediate family member cannot have run for state or federal office in the last 10 years or have been a political consultant, legislative staffer or lobbyist during that period. Nor can the applicant have contributed more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year. (full story)

Viewpoints: Redistricting means big job for voters
By Elaine Howle ,Sacramento Bee, October 23, 2009


Now that the Legislature has adjourned for the year, many Californians are ready for a break from the rough-and-tumble world of state government and politics.

My advice? Go ahead, take the fall off. It's not an election year, and autumn is a time for other things – getting the kids back to school, raking leaves and taking long walks in the clean, crisp air that comes with the change of seasons.

Take a breather now, because come the New Year we've all got an important new job to do: creating a commission that will have a major role in the state's future.

Once every 10 years, after the national census, all states engage in redistricting – drawing the maps that define districts for members of the Legislature and Board of Equalization – so that each district represents an equal share of the population. Until now, this process was overseen by the Legislature and the governor.

But voters changed that in 2008 when they approved the Voters FIRST Act, creating California's first Citizens Redistricting Commission. This is an exciting opportunity for California voters to become involved in redistricting.

The Voters FIRST Act also specifically placed the job of seeking citizen applications for this new commission in the hands of the California state auditor.

Some have asked why a fairly obscure, non-elected state official would be charged with such an important new job. While I did not seek this new responsibility, I think the reasons they chose this office are clear.

- - - - - - -

he California State Auditor's Office works with local government and state agencies every day, as well as with the state Legislature. We understand how the system works and how critical the process of drawing fair and legal districts is to the state and its future.

I believe the public also wanted to make sure that whoever took on the job would be trustworthy, independent and objective in carrying out the duties to create the new commission.

Again, that description perfectly fits the State Auditor's Office. Dedicated to conducting our work in a nonpartisan manner, free from outside influence, including that of elected officials or the subjects of our audits, objectivity and fairness are the hallmarks of our office.

Our auditors base their findings, conclusions and recommendations upon reliable evidence and never allow preconceived notions or personal opinions to influence their work. We strictly adhere to the standards of the auditing profession and exercise the highest ethical standards – and that is what we will do in establishing this new commission.

My Web site contains three key words: commitment, integrity and leadership. That is what we stand for and that is how I will approach this new opportunity.

It is, after all, a new experiment in democracy itself. And as we get started, I pledge that the voters will not be disappointed with their decision to place their trust in me. Please visit our Web site, www., to learn how you can become involved in this process and apply to become a member of this important commission.

I look forward to hearing from thousands of Californians as we start this important work. So take a fall break if you feel the need – but remember: Soon, we'll all have a big job to do. (full story)

Panel needed to redraw district lines, Application process complex
By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, Friday, September 11, 2009


SACRAMENTO — In about two months, California will begin accepting applications for arguably the most powerful panel of ordinary citizens ever assembled in Sacramento: the voter-created, 14-member commission that will draw legislative district lines that will be in force for the decade beginning in 2012.

Who will be chosen to make those momentous political decisions? Who will apply?

“It’s a great unknown,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “There’s never been a commission convened like this.”

The panel was established by Proposition 11, approved by voters last November. Sponsored by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, the initiative’s objective was to take the power to create legislative districts away from legislators and turn it over to a commission that would remove partisan political considerations from the process.

To achieve that, the initiative created a complex — convoluted, some argued at the time — process for selecting commission members.

Step One is now under way: the drafting of precise rules to carry out the initiative. The Bureau of State Audits, the impeccably nonpartisan entity selected to oversee the process, has circulated draft regulations to implement Proposition 11 and will hold a hearing Monday in Sacramento to accept public comments.

If all goes according to schedule, the rules will be finalized and the application period will open Dec. 15 and run through Feb. 12. The commission will be in place by October 2010.

But first, some questions must be settled about who will be qualified to serve. Critics of the proposed regulations say they set the bar so high it will discourage many qualified applicants from applying and eliminate many who do apply.

“If you look at the requirements, they would likely produce a pool of people close to retirement: lawyers, professors, people with a lot of background in government. It would also significantly reduce the pool of Latinos,” said redistricting expert Alan Clayton of Los Angeles, who has been involved in drawing — and, in some cases, challenging — political maps statewide and in Los Angeles County since the 1980s.

Clayton also worries that a proposed prohibition against people with “biases for or against any individuals, groups or geographical areas” would preclude anyone who has advocated for civil rights from serving on the commission.

Qualifications daunting

Among the “relevant analytical skills” applicants must possess, the regulations propose they be familiar with “sophisticated software,” be able to resolve complex problems with “factual ambiguities,” apply “appropriate legal standards” and understand “complicated statistical information.”

Alexander agrees the proposed job qualifications sound a little daunting.

“We don’t want to chase people away,” she said. “There’s a balance. You want to encourage people, but you don’t want to encourage people who can’t do the job.”

Clayton argues the balance could be struck by seeking people with demonstrated decision-making skills and then giving them access to experts who could supply the technical and legal information.

“To really know computers and have a background in law — that leaves out a lot of people,” he said. “They’ve made it so stringent it’s going to exclude some people who would be good commissioners.”

Margarita Fernandez, spokeswoman for the Bureau of State Audits, said the intent in drafting the regulations was “to try to be realistic so that people know what to expect.” She stressed the draft regulations can be changed, and if there is public concern about how they would affect the diversity of the pool of applicants “it will certainly become apparent in the public process.”

Malka Kopell, who is monitoring Proposition 11 implementation for the nonprofit group California Forward, said her group is working with civil rights and good-government organizations to get the word out encouraging qualified people to apply.

“I’m confident that there is a diverse group of qualified applicants out there,” she said. “We should get thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of qualified applicants.”

Anyone wishing to apply must fill out an online application. If not screened out because of conflicts or other deficiencies, the applicant will then have to complete a supplemental application, which will include answering essay questions and providing information about his or her race, ethnicity, economic status, political party affiliation and voting history.

Interview for 120 finalists

All will be sorted into three pools: Democrats, Republicans and voters who are either independent or members of minor parties. Their names and information about their application will be posted online, with public scrutiny invited.

The panel of auditors will interview 120 finalists, from which 60 will be selected for submission to the Legislature. Legislative leaders can strike the names of up to 24 of the 60 candidates.

From the remaining names, a lottery will select eight commissioners. Those eight will then select the remaining six commissioners from those remaining in the final pool. The 14 commissioners will include five Democrats, five Republicans and four who are neither.

“You do really have to want to do it,” said Kopell of the requirements for the job. “This is a chance for Californians to have a say in the process.(full story)


Justice Department to Recharge Civil Rights Enforcement

By Charlie Savage, New York Times, September 1, 2009



WASHINGTON — Seven months after taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reshaping the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division by pushing it back into some of the most important areas of American political life, including voting rights, housing, employment, bank lending practices and redistricting after the 2010 census.

As part of this shift, the Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly. President George W. Bush’s appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination.

To bolster a unit that has been battered by heavy turnover and a scandal over politically tinged hiring under the Bush administration, the Obama White House has also proposed a hiring spree that would swell the ranks of several hundred civil rights lawyers with more than 50 additional lawyers, a significant increase for a relatively small but powerful division of the government.

The division is “getting back to doing what it has traditionally done,” Mr. Holder said in an interview. “But it’s really only a start. I think the wounds that were inflicted on this division were deep, and it will take some time for them to fully heal.”

Few agencies are more engaged in the nation’s social and cultural debates than the Civil Rights Division, which was founded in 1957 to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

The division has been at the center of a number of controversies over the decades, serving as a proxy for disputes between liberals and conservatives in matters like school busing and affirmative action. When the Nixon administration took office, it sought to delay school desegregation plans reached under former President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Reagan administration dropped the division’s policy of opposing tax-exempt status for racially discriminatory private schools. And former President Bill Clinton withdrew his first nominee to lead the division, Lani Guinier, after her writings about racial quotas were criticized.

But such dust-ups were minor when compared with sweeping changes at the division under the Bush administration, longtime career civil rights lawyers say.

Now the changes that Mr. Holder is pushing through have led some conservatives, still stinging from accusations that the Bush appointees “politicized” the unit, to start throwing the same charge back at President Obama’s team.

The agency’s critics cite the downsizing of a voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party, an investigation into whether an Arizona sheriff’s enforcement of immigration laws has discriminated against Hispanics, and the recent blocking of a new rule requiring Georgia voters to prove their citizenship. (Under the Bush administration, the division had signed off on a similar law requiring Georgia voters to furnish photographic identification, rejecting criticism that legitimate minority voters are disproportionately more likely not to have driver’s licenses or passports.)
Department officials are working to avoid unleashing potential controversies as they rebuild the division’s more traditional efforts on behalf of minorities.

They are not planning to dismantle the new initiatives, rather to hire enough additional lawyers to do everything. The administration’s fiscal year 2010 budget request includes an increase of about $22 million for the division, an 18 percent increase from the 2009 budget. Other changes are already apparent.

The division has filed about 10 “friend of the court” briefs in private discrimination-related lawsuits since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, a practice that had dwindled in the previous administration.

In July, moreover, the division’s acting head, Loretta King, sent a memorandum to every federal agency urging more aggressive enforcement of regulations that forbid recipients of taxpayer money from policies that have a disparate impact on minorities.

The division has also lifted Bush-era rules that some career staff members saw as micromanagement or impediments, like restrictions on internal communications and a ban on front-line career lawyers’ making recommendations on whether to approve proposed changes to election laws.

Other changes from the Bush years may be harder to roll back. The division’s downgrading of the New Black Panther Party charges, which were filed in the final days of the Bush administration, has had rippling consequences. It apparently prompted Senate Republicans to put a hold on President Obama’s nominee to lead the division as assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas Perez.

The delay in Mr. Perez’s arrival, in turn, is stalling plans to review section managers installed by the Bush team, including several regarded with suspicion by civil rights advocacy groups. Under federal law, top-level career officials may not be transferred to other positions for the first 120 days after a new agency head is confirmed.

Bush-era changes to the division’s permanent rank may also have lingering effects. From 2003 to 2007, Bush political appointees blocked liberals from career jobs and promotions, which they steered to fellow conservatives, whom one such official privately described as “real Americans,” a department inspector general report found. The practice, which no previous administration had done, violated civil service laws, it said.

As morale plunged among veterans, turnover accelerated. The Obama transition team’s confidential report on the division, obtained by The New York Times, says 236 civil rights lawyers left from 2003 to 2007. (The division has about 350 lawyers.)

Many of their replacements had scant civil rights experience and were graduates of lower-ranked law schools. The transition report says the era of hiring such “inexperienced or poorly qualified” lawyers — who are now themselves protected by civil service laws — has left lasting damage.

“While some of the political hires have performed competently and a number of others have left, the net effect of the politicized hiring process and the brain drain is an attorney work force largely ill-equipped to handle the complex, big-impact litigation that should comprise a significant part” of the division’s docket, the transition report said.

At the end of the Bush administration, the attorney general at the time, Michael B. Mukasey, began to make changes intended to reduce political influence over entry-level career lawyer hiring. The Civil Rights Division is now seeking to expand those changes.

It is developing a new hiring policy under which panels of career employees — not political appointees — would decide both whom to hire and to promote for positions from interns to veteran lawyers. The policy could be completed as early as this month.

“We wanted to create a very transparent policy that will stand the test of time and ensure that we hire the best and brightest,” said Mark Kappelhoff, a longtime civil rights lawyer who is the division’s acting principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Some conservatives are skeptical that such a policy will keep politics out of hiring, however. Robert Driscoll, a division political appointee from 2001 to 2003, said career civil rights lawyers are “overwhelmingly left-leaning” and will favor liberals.

“If you are the Obama administration and you allow the career staff to do all the hiring, you will get the same people you would probably get if you did it yourself,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a masterstroke by them.”

Mr. Holder has elsewhere called for social changes with civil rights overtones, like the passage of a federal hate-crimes law, the elimination of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and greater financing for indigent defense.

By contrast, he described his Civil Rights Division efforts as more restoration than change. The recent moves, he argued, are a return to its basic approach under presidents of both parties — despite some policy shifts between Republican and Democratic administrations — before the “sea change” and “aberration” of the Bush years.

“Of course there are going to be critics,” Mr. Holder said. But, he argued, “any objective observer” would see the recent approach as consistent with “the historical mission of the division, not straying into some kind of liberal orthodoxy. It really is just a function of enforcing the statutes.” (full story)


Redistricting: Ultimate political battle looms in California

By John Howard, Capitol Weekly, June 18, 2009



A decade ago, California’s Democrat-controlled Legislature carved up the state’s political districts to protect incumbents, Democrat and Republican, based on the census. The once-a-decade process known as redistricting, as little understood by the public as it is critical to politicians’ survival, enshrined Democratic dominance of the Capitol even as it created scattered enclaves of Republican power. The result: A hyperpartisan brew that is felt to this day in virtually every aspect of legislative life.

Next spring, the census begins again, and the changes will serve as the foundation for new political boundaries for the 2012 elections that reflect the population changes in a state of 38 million people.

But this time, there will be differences.

First, the districts of the Senate, the Assembly and the Board of Equalization – 124 districts in all – will be drawn by an independent commission, not the Legislature. The Legislature will draw only the 53 districts of California’s delegation in the House of Representatives. The members of Congress felt they would fare better at the hands of fellow politicians than at the hands of the public.

The commission, approved by voters as Proposition 11, will handle the complex, computer-driven task of drawing the districts’ boundaries. The two-house conference committee struggling to cover a $24 billion budget shortage grudgingly approved $3 million this week to finance the commission’s work. The point person for the commission is State Auditor Elaine Howle, designated by voters as the person to set up the logistics for the new commission and get the process underway. But her office, the fiscal investigators and accountants that watch the state’s spending, made it clear last week, at a meeting sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, that it’s going to be a difficult chore.

“It’s not fair to them,” said Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, a member of the conference committee. “It’s totally outside the realm of their regular duties…. The folks she needs to do this are not on her regular payroll.”


One lawmaker, Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, suggested that Howle’s audits be curtailed to accommodate the map drawing. “We thought it might be more prudent to redirect the number of audits,” he said.

But the 10-member committee, controlled by Democrats, disagreed, and the $3 million was approved from the state’s strapped General Fund. The action drew little attention in a committee that has proposed billions of dollars worth of cuts in state spending.


Redistricting in California has a long, checkered and bitterly partisan history in which incumbents battle for survival and the result often winds up in court.

The 2000 battle was resolved largely by agreements between then-Senate Leader John Burton of San Francisco, a Democrat, and GOP Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. A decade earlier, Republican Pete Wilson was elected governor, in part because desperate Republicans needed him to veto Democrat-drawn districts. He did exactly that, the plans suffered legal challenges and in the end, special masters appointed by the court handled the thorny chore. Opinions differ in the Capitol, but many in both parties believe those districts were less gerrymandered and more evenly balanced than they would have been if they had been left in the hands of the Democratic majority.

Attempts to create a redistricting commission have fallen apart before, such as in 2006 when a concerted, well-financed campaign backed by the leaders of both parties led to the defeat of Proposition 77. Other efforts also have foundered, such as those calling for the redistricting decisions to be made by retired judges.

But last November, voters approved Proposition 11. Supporters, led by California Common Cause, raised $14 million for their campaign. Opponents, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, the state Democratic Party and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, raised $1 million. But it was narrowly approved, 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent, a difference of less than 194,000 votes out of nearly 12 million votes cast.

The new commission, comprised of 14 members, will include five Democrats, five Republicans and four from neither party.

But here’s where it gets a little tricky: Anybody can apply to be on the commission. Howle’s office will screen the applicants for conflicts of interest and the review panel will come up with 60 registered voters from the pool of applicants viewed as the most qualified – 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans and 20 of neither party. (Full story)


California: Our Very Own Failed State

Editorial, The Week, June 5, 2009



The state that once had it all, said The Washington Post in an editorial, all of a sudden doesn’t have much of anything. Formerly the optimistic, laid-back home of movie stars, surfers, and sunshine-seeking lovers of the good life, California today boasts unemployment of 11 percent, a budget deficit of at least $21 billion, and the prospect of imminent fiscal collapse. Unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can come up with $5.5 billion in the next few weeks, California will simply “run out of money.” Borrowing probably isn’t the answer, as California’s credit rating is currently the lowest of the 50 states. In a special election last week, Californian voters emphatically rejected Schwarzenegger’s latest revenue-raising scheme, humbling a man who used to routinely achieve the impossible in his movies. “This means cuts, cuts, cuts,” the glum governor said.

Cuts may be the answer in the short run, said George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times, but the state’s dilemma won’t be solved permanently by laying off thousands of teachers and government workers, and cutting social-service benefits. The real problem is that California has become ungovernable. The state is locked into cripplingly expensive labor contracts with public-employee unions, which largely call the tune for Democrats in Sacramento. But thanks to California’s proud tradition of “ballot initiatives,” voters have imposed a series of conflicting restrictions on their lawmakers, who are required both to balance the budget every year and secure a two-thirds majority for any tax increases. Majorities for any painful decisions are almost impossible to achieve, said Dan Schnur, also in the Times, because of a “redistricting process that elects only the most conservative of Republicans and the most liberal of Democrats” to the state legislature. California is therefore caught between the wishes of big-spending liberals and angry populist tax-cutters, with no means of resolving their ongoing dispute. (Full story)


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