Monday, July 17, 2006

VRA now a tool of GOP majorities

Don't get me wrong, I think the Voting Rights Act is one of the best pieces of legislation ever divised by Congress. But thanks to the Supreme Court's unwillingness to step in and create clear, bright-line rules about redistricting (and deciding this year to allow re-redistricting) and advances in software, the GOP is able to use the VRA to ensure they stay in power. How? By using majority-minority districts to their advantage:

The Republicans are more than happy to cede 40 or so majority-minority Democratic big-city districts, carved to the specifications of the Voting Rights Act, in exchange for a lock on the far more numerous [white,] suburban districts.

One of surest ways to make seats more Democratic leaning is to spread the black vote around several districts, such that there is a sizable minority (20-40%) but not an overwhelming presence (so that the rest can be divvyed up in other districts. But this could violate the VRA, which prohibits diluting the votes of minorities. New York Magazine has the goods:

"It seems clear that the VRA doesn’t serve us well," says a Democratic congressman who’s tried to push the issue with colleagues. "But a weird, self-interested math comes into play. Black Democrats don’t want to appear retrograde; whites don’t have the courage to stand up and try to fix it without blacks standing alongside them; and Republicans like the outcome that they’re getting, which enables them to have perpetually lily-white suburban southern districts. And then there’s so much animus—not between the parties, but between white Democrats and black Democrats, in lots of parts of the South. So any effort to ‘fix’ the thing is a nonstarter. But I’d be a better congressman if my district were more diverse, and Democrats would have better chances of winning if there were more ‘swing’ districts."

Such swing districts would be more progressive and ultimately more favorable to the interests of African-Americans. But not necessarily Black politicans. I hope that by 2006, a district without a majority of minorities could elect a minority to represent them. Of course, I am not so naive not to recognize that people vote against minorities all the time just because they are minorities and folks like Barrack Obama are the exception rather than the rule.

Still CBC members should look beyond their own selfish interests into what is best for their constituents-- having a Democrat-controlled House-- and not what is best for them personally.

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