How the GOP Is Resegregating the South
Continued from previous page
In 1949 white Democrats controlled 103 of 105 House seats in the former Confederacy. Today the number is sixteen of 131, and it could reach single digits after 2012. “I should be stuffed and put in a museum when I pass away,” says Representative Steve Cohen, a white Democrat who represents a majority-minority district in Memphis, “and people can say, ‘Yes, a white Southern Democrat once lived here.’”
Unlike the Republican Party, which is 95 percent white in states like Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the Democratic Party can thrive only as a multiracial coalition. The elimination of white Democrats has also crippled the political aspirations of black Democrats. According to a recent report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, only 4.8 percent of black state legislators in the South serve in the majority. “Black voters and elected officials have less influence now than at any time since the civil rights era,” the report found. Sadly, the report came out before all the redistricting changes had gone into effect. By the end of this cycle, Republicans in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee could have filibuster-proof majorities in their legislatures, and most white Democrats in Alabama and Mississippi (which haven’t completed redistricting yet) could be wiped out.
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Texas, a state not known for subtlety, chose to ignore its rapidly growing minority population altogether. One of four majority-minority states, Texas grew by 4.3 million people between 2000 and 2010, two-thirds of them Hispanics and 11 percent black. As a result, the state gained four Congressional seats this cycle. Yet the number of seats to which minority voters could elect a candidate declined, from eleven to ten. As a result, Republicans will pick up three of the four new seats. “The Texas plan is by far the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year,” says Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters.
As in the rest of the South, the new lines were drawn by white Republicans with no minority input. As the maps were drafted, Eric Opiela, counsel to the state’s Congressional Republicans, referred to key sections of the Voting Rights Act as “hocus-pocus.” Last year the Justice Department found that the state’s Congressional and Statehouse plans violated Section 5 of the VRA by “diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” (Texas has lost more Section 5 enforcement suits than any other state.)
Only by reading the voluminous lawsuits filed against the state can one appreciate just how creative Texas Republicans had to be to so successfully dilute and suppress the state’s minority vote. According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.
Based on these disturbing facts, a DC District Court invalidated the state’s maps and ordered a three-judge panel in San Antonio to draw new ones that better accounted for Texas’s minority population, which improved Democratic prospects. The Supreme Court, however, recently ruled that the San Antonio court must use the state’s maps as the basis for the new districts, at least until a separate three-judge panel in Washington decides whether the maps violate the VRA. Final arguments will take place January 31, in a case that could have far-reaching ramifications for the rights of minority voters not just in Texas but across the South.