Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The decline of the majority-black district, and what it means

I suppose I'm on a roll today as far as race is going. Now we move on to the decline "majority-minority" congressional districts. So this issue is covered at the Washington Post's The Fix Blog (via Newsalert).

The last decade hasn’t been kind to majority-black congressional districts across the country.

While the black population nationally ticked up 12 percent in the just-released Census numbers, eight of the top 10 majority-black districts across the country actually experienced population loss, losing an average of more than 10 percent of their black population, according to a review of Census data by The Fix.

Many of these districts lost voters of other races too, and are now in need of significant expansion during this year’s redistricting process.

The population loss is really more of a migration. The black population is moving from the major metropolitan areas – where most of these districts are – and into the suburbs. In fact, of the 15 districts with the greatest black population growth over the last decade, all of them are in the suburbs of these metro areas.

And that could play right into the hands of a Republican Party that controls redistricting in an unprecedented number of states and will be drawing many of these districts.

“The practical effect is great for the GOP; in state after state, it’s allowing Republicans to pack more heavily Democratic close-in suburbs into urban black districts to make surrounding districts more Republican,” said Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

In effect, the Voting Rights Act makes it permissible for Republicans to combine as many black voters – the most reliable Democratic voting bloc in the country – into some of the most creatively drawn districts in the country. This is known as “packing,” and while it makes for a series of very safe Democratic districts, it also takes Democratic voters out of neighboring districts — making them easier for Republicans to win. (“Packing” is a form of gerrymandering — the process of benefitting politically by drawing districts that are often oddly shaped.)
Detroit Democratic Reps. John Conyers and Hansen Clarke, for instance, lost nearly one-quarter of the 800,000 black voters their districts had in 2000. But Rep. Sander Levin’s (D) neighboring suburban district took in many of those voters, gaining the ninth-most black voters in the country. Nearby Reps. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) also saw their district pick up tens of thousands of African-Americans.

Ditto Washington, D.C., which saw its black population plummet 11 percent over the last decade, while suburban D.C. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gained more black voters than anyone outside of the fast-growing Atlanta area. (Fellow Maryland Democrats Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen also gained lots of black voters.)

The effect of all this movement is that the black population is significantly more dispersed than it was a decade ago — even as the Voting Rights Act continues to require black-majority districts not be diluted during the redistricting process.

In other words, significant line changes will have to be made to keep these districts as heavily black as they were for the last decade.
While hailed as an advance in civil rights that has helped many African-American politicians get to Congress, many experts and political observers acknowledge the long-term effects of the VRA have been good for Republicans, not Democrats.

Given the population losses in many of the country’s majority-black districts, and the fact that Republicans control redistricting in so many states, we can wager a guess that these majority-black districts will remain intact and possibly even add black population.

And the more gerrymandering, the better for Republicans.

Some even contend that the Voting Rights Act has outlived its usefulness in this regard, as black politicians have made gains and regularly get elected even in majority-white districts. A pair of black Republicans even won in 2010.

But while the African-American population has been shrinking in many of these majority-black districts in recent years, the number of majority-black districts has actually increased over the last decade and could very well continue to with Republicans leading the redistricting process.

But while the expansion of these majority-black districts in 2010 might be a good thing in the short-term for the GOP, the minority populations are still growing much faster than the white population — especially Hispanics. And given the GOP’s struggles with minority voters, they may very well have a long-term problem.

Whew, long excerpt! The point is that the creation of majority-minority districts have largely benefitted Republicans in recent years. They can draw districts that may well insure the election of other Republicans and keep the Democratic votes in whatever districts they create.

Brings to mind this post I wrote within the last month about redistricting in Illinois bouncing off of a post at NBC 5's Ward Room. It showed how difficult it would be for Illinois Democrats to redraw a map that will benefit Democrats. Unlike those state mentioned at The Fix, Illinois state government as far as 4 out of 6 executive offices including governor and the stat legislature are run by the Democrats.

ALSO, today's Capitol Fax Question of the Day (QOTD) is regarding redistricting in this state. The main question is whether or not Illinois' redistricting process is fair because it excludes the Republicans? Not sure what to say about that other than the Republicans weren't able to mount much of a campaign to insure that they would have some say in the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts throughout this state.

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