Between the Lines
By John Mercurio
Back to the Drawing
A new Congressional map that would have
pitted Republican Reps. Jim Nussle and James Leach against each
other next year was rejected by the Iowa state Senate last week. The
Legislature will now be forced to return to work to approve a remap
On a 27-21 vote, the state Senate rejected a
map drawn by Iowa's non-partisan Legislative Service Bureau that had
been criticized by Republicans. It received the vote of only one GOP
The proposed lines included significant
changes for practically every member of the Iowa delegation. In
addition to throwing Leach and Nussle into the same seat, it would
have reduced Republicans' strength in Rep. Greg Ganske's (R)4th
district, making it even more vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.
Ganske is giving up the seat for a campaign against Sen. Tom Harkin
In an interview last week Iowa state House
Speaker Brent Siegrist (R), who may run to replace Ganske, based his
opposition to the plan on the idea that "population variances" under
the bureau's plan are too high, meaning that the number of people in
each district varies greatly. But Democrats say Siegrist may be
motivated by his own political concerns. They note that the current
plan offers him two unappealing options in 2002: running in Ganske's
Democratic-leaning open seat, which does not include Siegrist's base
of Council Bluffs, or a GOP stronghold in western Iowa that Rep. Tom
Latham (R) is also eyeing.
Latham would relocate to accommodate a move
by Nussle under a plan supported by some GOP officials, and Siegrist
said he thinks a second map could create a Republican stronghold
that would pit him against Boswell. "I've known Leonard for a long
time. He's a great guy, but he would have a tough time if he got
tossed in here," the Speaker said.
The LSB will produce another map, which the
Legislature only has the option of voting up or down. But if it
moves to a third proposal, legislators can make changes to the plan.
Although Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature,
Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack has veto power over the lines, and some
lawmakers are already predicting that the state Supreme Court will
end up drawing the lines for Iowa's five House districts.
The bureau was first assigned to draw House
maps following the 1980 census. In 1981 the Legislature twice
rejected bureau maps, ultimately drawing one themselves. In 1991
legislators accepted the bureau's first map.
When the Indiana Legislature adjourned April
29, it assured that a five-member commission controlled by Democrats
would put the finishing touches on Congressional redistricting in
The commission will meet May 10. Indiana is
losing one of its 10 seats in the House, and the body is expected to
approve a plan that could pit GOP Reps. Brian Kerns and Steve Buyer
against each other next year.
The commission consists of two Republicans
-state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Garton and state Sen. Sue
Landske, who chairs the elections committee - and three Democrats -
House Speaker John Gregg, state House elections committee Chairman
Thomas Kromkowski and state Rep. Ed Mahern, chairman of the state
House redistricting committee. Mahern was appointed by Democratic
Gov. Frank O'Bannon.
Garton, who will begin the commission meeting
as chairman, was glum about the prospects of the Republicans in the
"I can count,"he told the Louisville
Courier-Journal. "It's 3-to-2, and I'm sure I'll be replaced as
chairman pretty quickly."
Charles in Charge?
Another legislative leader looking at a seat
in the House next year might be Georgia state Senate Majority Leader
Charles Walker (D). Bill Shipp's Georgia, a newsletter covering the
ins and outs of the state's politics, reports that Democrats who
control the remapping process will attempt to significantly weaken
Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R)position in the 10th district and create
an Augusta-based seat that Walker could, well, walk into next year.
The newsletter also floated the idea that
state House Majority Leader Larry Walker (D)could see a central
Georgia district designed with his political future in mind. It also
reports that party-switching Rep. Nathan Deal (R) and prominent
impeachment player Rep. Bob Barr (R) could find themselves facing
off in a 2002 primary when all is said and done.
Democrats are eager to change the current
balance of eight Republicans and three Democrats in the state
delegation (Georgia will also gain two seats), but they should keep
an eye on history. They also controlled the last round of
redistricting, and an aggressive attempt to hurt then Rep. Newt
Gingrich (R) ended up backfiring. Before redistricting Democrats had
controlled nine of the state's 10 House seats.
Judge: No Sampling.
A U.S. District Court judge last week
dismissed a Democratic-backed lawsuit that sought to force Commerce
Secretary Donald Evans to release census numbers adjusted with
Backing a recommendation from the Census
Bureau, Evans ruled that the bureau could not release census
estimates based on sampling. Judge Gary Fees said he found the
underlying federal law "unclear."
The suit was filed in March on behalf of more
than a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, New York and San
Francisco, as well as several L.A.-area House Members. The
plaintiffs may appeal.
April 30, 2001
Johnson vs. Maloney?
Remapping in Connecticut hasn't gone very far
yet, but that hasn't stopped Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) from preparing
for a race against Rep. James Maloney (D) - and using that potential
showdown to help her raise money.
Just one of dozens of House Members who could
face a battle with a fellow incumbent in newly drawn districts,
Johnson held a PAC fundraiser March 20 at the Capitol Hill Club
during which she highlighted speculation that she could be forced to
run against Maloney. Connecticut lost one of its six House seats in
"Fact: Maloney is gearing up to relocate and
run against Nancy Johnson in HER district," read an invitation to
Johnson's PAC supporters. "Fact: A campaign contribution for Jim
Maloney is a contribution AGAINST Nancy Johnson."
Likewise, a March campaign newsletter for
Johnson noted that "Pundits in Connecticut predict that Maloney will
relocate and run against Johnson in her district once his is
"A lot of our supporters, especially in
Washington, don't know this is taking place," Dave Karvelas,
Johnson's chief of staff, said last week. "You have to be prepared
for the worst-case scenario, and certainly running against another
incumbent is the toughest kind of race you could have."
Maloney said Johnson's "strong-arm tactics"
suggest that she is "unduly alarmed, unduly early."
"I'm disappointed in Nancy. There's sort of a
whiff of panic there," he said. "Nancy talks about bipartisanship in
Connecticut, and yet she is engaging in bullying tactics with the
PAC community in Washington."
Unlike Johnson, Maloney has faced strong
opposition in both of his re-election contests, forcing him to raise
and spend large sums of money and assemble serious campaign
organizations. Maloney raised $2 million for his 2000 bid, but he
had just $8,000 on hand as of Dec. 31. Johnson raised $1.6 million,
but she had $452,000 in the bank at the end of 2000.
Johnson campaign aides have also sought to
stir speculation that Maloney is casting about for an entirely new
job. Aides last week faxed out newspaper reports that Maloney would
eye a gubernatorial bid if he loses his House seat. But Maloney said
Friday that he's leaning strongly against a run for governor.
An eight-member panel composed of two members
of each party from the state House and Senate will draw the maps.
State law sets a Sept. 15 deadline for the General Assembly to
approve the redistricting plans. Gov. John Rowland's (R) approval is
not required, but the plan must be approved by a two-thirds majority
of both chambers of the Legislature.
Speculation about a Johnson-Maloney contest
stems from the possibility that redistricting officials will
eliminate his Danbury-based seat, forcing him to run against one of
A Johnson-Maloney matchup is not a sure
thing, though. Some redistricting insiders said Maloney could easily
end up running to challenge Rep. Christopher Shays (R), whose
Stamford-based district lies southwest of Maloney's territory.
Shays has said he does not relish a race
against his colleague. "I don't like to think about having to run
against him. He's a competent and capable Member," Shays told the
New Haven Register.
Back to the Drawing
An Iowa redistricting plan that throws two
House Republicans into the same district and favors Democrats
elsewhere has drawn opposition from a key citizens group.
The state's Temporary Redistricting Advisory
Commission, a five-member panel of citizens that held public
hearings this month, voted 3-2 along party lines to reject the map,
which was proposed earlier this month by the state Bureau of
Legislative Services. The bureau is a non-partisan arm of the
Legislature that is responsible for designing new House maps every
The bureau's map would throw GOP Reps. Jim
Leach, the dean of the Iowa House delegation, and Jim Nussle, the
new Budget chairman, into the same eastern Iowa district, while
making retiring Rep. Greg Ganske's (R) district into a
Democratic-leaning seat. The plan also solidifies the Democratic
strength of the district of Rep. Leonard Boswell, the House
delegation's lone Democrat.
Republicans, who control the state
Legislature, plan to use the group's vote to help bolster their case
for derailing the bureau's map.
The Legislature can vote on the new maps as
early as Wednesday. If they reject them, lawmakers will return in
special session and consider a second proposal. If the second
proposal fails, the Legislature will create a third plan.
Luther vs. McCollum?
Kicking off action in what could be one of
the most unpredictable states facing redistricting, Minnesota
Republicans have drawn a House map that pits Democratic Reps. Bill
Luther and Betty McCollum against each other in the same district.
The GOP plan would create a new district in the Twin Cities where
black voters would represent a plurality.
The Minnesota remap promises to be a unwieldy
process, if only because it will feature three opposing players
instead of the traditional two. Republicans control the state
Senate, Democrats run the state House and Gov. Jesse Ventura is an
Under the plan Republicans released last
week, Minneapolis and St. Paul would share one district for the
first time in more than 100 years, the suburbs would be represented
by three Members instead of two and northern Minnesota, now served
by two Representatives, would have just one.
The Republican plan creates a new suburban
6th district with no incumbent. If the proposal is enacted, Luther
presumably will move there to represent the suburban voters north of
the Twin Cities he has served since 1995.
The measure has already drawn criticism from
Democrats and the Ventura administration, which said it is contrary
to the governor's priority of drawing a map that fosters strong
competition among both major- and minor-party candidates. Ventura
aides said the GOP map seeks a clear advantage for Republicans.
Utah Census Case, Take
One week after a federal three-judge panel
rejected its original bid to win an additional House seat, Utah
filed a second challenge to the Census Bureau's decision to deny the
state an extra seat in reapportionment and give it to North Carolina
Utah's lawyers still plan to appeal to the
Supreme Court the panel's recent rejection of the state's lawsuit,
which sought to have overseas missionaries added to the 2000 Census
numbers or have overseas federal employees excluded from the count.
Either option would give Utah an additional House seat.
Utah lost the seat to North Carolina by 857
residents. Utah had about 11,000 Mormon missionaries serving
The second lawsuit, which also asks for a
three-judge panel to hear the case, challenges the Census Bureau's
use of a statistical technique known as "imputation," which Utah
attorneys claim is a form of statistical sampling. The Supreme Court
ruled against the use of sampling for reapportionment.
The Future of
Race in Redistricting
The other day the Supreme Court approved a
meandering, predominantly black North Carolina congressional
district configured in a way that some white voters claimed was
unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision, which turned on Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor's swing vote, was the fifth time since 1993 that the
court had to rule on the district currently held by Rep. Mel Watt.
After all of those rulings, however, the court still hasn't answered
the most important question: Is it constitutionally permissible to
create congressional districts to guarantee minority
As with previous cases, the justices have not
given the country clear guidance, something it will need as states
go through the arduous task of redistricting following the 2000
census. The high court first struck down Watt's district in 1993,
with Justice O'Connor referring to it as ``political apartheid.'' In
1996 the black-majority district was again declared unlawfully
created. In 1997 the justices ruled that North Carolina had to
redraw the district because too much emphasis was placed on race
when it was designed. In 1999 the justices reversed a lower court
panel's decision invalidating the redrawn district because the panel
had not held a hearing on the evidence.
The court has said that race can still be a
factor in redistricting plans; it simply cannot be the predominant
factor. But how much of a factor? And when should it be used?
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote: ``The evidence taken together ... does
not show that racial considerations predominated. ... That is
because race in this case correlates closely with political
behavior.'' So is it OK for party registration to be a factor when
drawing a congressional district? Some background: In 1982 the
Voting Rights Act of 1965 was amended so that nonwhites could claim
they were denied the right ``to elect representatives of their
choice'' if nonwhites were not voted into office in proportion to
their numbers. This has been interpreted to mean the creation of
mostly black voting areas to virtually guarantee the election of
The boundaries of these districts tend to follow
residential patterns rather than natural town boundaries. As a
result, many are exotically shaped, defying traditional principles
such as compactness, contiguousness and respect for communities of
interest. But supporters of creating ``majority-minority'' districts
point out, correctly, that it has been the means for blacks and
Hispanics to increase their representation in federal and state
legislative bodies. Before it was done in Florida in 1992, there had
been no black congressional members from the state since
Throughout this nation's history, redistricting
has often been synonymous with gerrymandering. So illogically shaped
voting districts are nothing new. But while there is no general
guide for forming legislative districts, again, compactness and
geographical contiguousness are a good starting point. It is the
``communities of interest'' component that tends to come first when
drawing majority-minority districts. And until the court gives a
strong ruling on how much of a factor race can be or gives specific
instructions on how redistricting should be done, it is safe to say
the justices will be dealing with the issue again in the near
Slapstick With Maps
By David S. Broder
The redistricting season got off to a splendid
start last week and promises to bring as much amusement to
Washington as the new Mel Brooks musical, "The Producers,"
apparently will deliver on Broadway. Our political slapstick
promises mind-reading, side-switching Supreme Court justices,
feuding politicians and enough hypocrisy to choke a rhinoceros.
Every 10 years, when the results of the latest census are reported,
seats in city councils, state legislative chambers and the House of
Representatives have to be redistributed to keep the districts as
equal in population as possible. Theoretically, that mandate could
be accomplished by taking a cookie-cutter to the map and blocking
out squares of varying size, each with the same number of
That ain't the way it happens. Instead, the
legislatures (which perform this artistry except in a few
fun-killing states where the work is assigned to nonpartisan
commissions) take cognizance of such above-board considerations as
traditional political and geographic boundaries. But they give even
greater weight to such urgent if unmentionable goals as protecting
their friends, discomfiting their opponents and drawing favorable
districts for themselves. After the legislatures do their worst,
someone is sure to challenge the resulting map in court -- and then
the fun begins. Judges, it seems, are frustrated cartographers, and
their inclination to seize the pencil and eraser is almost literally
real cartographer, Syracuse University geography professor Mark
Monmonier, explains what happens, in a delightful new book titled
"Bushmanders and Bullwinkles," which he describes as "an examination
of how legislators, redistricting officials and constitutional
lawyers use maps as both tools and weapons." Along the way, he
touches several times on the relatively new role of judges as
map-makers. Too late for Monmonier's book, but just in time to mark
the start of another banner season of judicially supervised
redistricting, the Supreme Court last week delivered a decision
upholding the constitutionality of North Carolina's 12th
Congressional District. Created 10 years ago by the North Carolina
legislature with the clear goal of ending the all-white history of
the 12-member congressional delegation from a state that is 22
percent black, it has been held since 1992 by African American
Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt. But it has rarely had the same
boundaries two elections in a row. A series of court cases and
legislative responses has transformed it from a long and skinny
district picking up black enclaves from Durham to Charlotte into a
shorter, fatter (and less African American) district running from
Charlotte to Winston-Salem. White plaintiffs have taken the case to
the Supreme Court four separate times, with a record of one win, one
loss and two ties (remands to lower courts requesting further
The issue each time has been whether the
legislators who drew the 12th District had made its racial
composition the "predominant factor" in their craftsmanship, thereby
violating a constitutional prohibition against segregating people on
the basis of race. Determining the answer involved a painstaking
review of the arguments -- explicit and implicit -- that went into
its formation and the raw materials that the legislators in Raleigh
used in constructing it. At times, it came awfully close to judicial
mind-reading. What made the case so vexing was the simple fact that
most African American voters mark their ballots for
If the legislators were trying to draw a safely
Democratic district, it would be okay -- assuming it met the other
tests the courts usually apply. But if their goal was mainly to draw
a safely black district, that would be a no-no. When the Supreme
Court looked at the first version of District 12, the justices
concluded it was racial gerrymandering, and threw it out. By a 5 to
4 decision. When they looked at the latest version, just last week,
it looked like good old-fashioned political gerrymandering and they
said it could stand. Again, by a 5 to 4 decision. The swing vote was
that of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has occupied that role so
often on closely contested redistricting cases that she has become
the virtual Czarina of Remaps, a k a She Who Must Be Satisfied.
Politicians and their consultants pore over every word O'Connor has
uttered on this subject, trying to assure themselves that they have
plausible arguments to offer her when the inevitable moment arrives
and they are trying to defend their maps in the Supreme Court.
O'Connor reigns supreme. And when she retires, Mel Brooks would be
the logical successor.
Move Could Limit Hispanic Gains Challengers Unhappy With Decision
By Ethan Wallison and John
April 23, 2001
In a decision that could undercut efforts to
boost their numbers on Capitol Hill, Congressional Hispanics have
privately agreed to back incumbent Democrats in primary contests
with Hispanic challengers, despite major population gains that
portend new electoral clout for Latinos. The Congressional Hispanic
Caucus made the decision as its members were finalizing details for
a PAC that will be used to recruit and finance Latino candidates in
the 2002 elections and beyond. "We've made our position very clear,"
said Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), chairman of the CHC. "We are
identifying seats where there is not that potential" for Hispanics
to challenge incumbent Democrats, and they are recruiting candidates
in those districts.
The decision sets the Hispanic Caucus at odds
with its own goal of boosting Latino representation on Capitol Hill
- an objective that seemed achievable with the release of new census
figures showing that Hispanics have reached parity with
African-Americans in terms of national population. However, Latino
leaders on Capitol Hill said they calculated that the cost of
backing Hispanic candidates over their own colleagues would outweigh
any benefits they might receive from greater representation in
Congress. "Clearly, if we want Members to vote with us on the issues
of importance to our community, we need to support them," Democratic
Caucus Vice Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said. It is not likely that
the CHC's support would provide a margin of advantage for Latino
challengers. But without it, such candidates would lose a powerful
argument for voters to change their representatives in
Already, Democratic strategists and Congressional
Hispanics have scaled back earlier projections of as many as 12
Latino pickups in the next elections. Many now say the high-end
figure is probably more like six, but some strategists suggest even
that number could be overly optimistic. The surge in Latino numbers
is the barely concealed subtext of a number of redistricting battles
across the country and is already animating contests in cities such
as Los Angeles, where Hispanics have emerged as a strong plurality
in three districts currently represented by African-American
lawmakers. These Members - Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters, Juanita
Millender-McDonald and, assuming she wins a June 5 runoff, Diane
Watson - are likely to benefit most from the CHC's decision. Mark
Gersh, a top Democratic strategist and adviser to Minority Leader
Richard Gephardt (Mo.), noted that as many as 15 districts have
shifted from black to Hispanic pluralities in the past decade.
"That's where you get into black-brown primaries, potentially,"
Gersh said, while stressing that much still needs to be determined
in the redistricting process.
Potential Hispanic primary challengers have also
begun to emerge in districts with white incumbents. In Colorado's
1st district, where roughly a third of the constituency is now of
Hispanic origin, three-term Rep. Diana DeGette (D) already faces a
challenge from Denver City Council President Ramona Martinez (D).
While Martinez acknowledged "the [unwritten] rule" that says Members
don't support challenges to their party colleagues, she indicated
that she considers the CHC's position misguided. "I guess Idon't
quite understand [the CHC position], because if our goal is to
increase our representation in Congress, there are going to have to
be changes" in a number of districts, Martinez said in an interview.
The councilwoman cited census figures that showed DeGette's
district, which is expected to remain intact through redistricting,
is now 54 percent black or Hispanic. "Where are minority communities
supposed to get minority representation?" Martinez asked
rhetorically. "I plan on giving every one of [the members of the
CHC] a courtesy call to let them know that I'm running."
Larry Gonzalez, the Washington director of the
National Association of Latino Elected Officials, a non-partisan
group that has been helping the Hispanic Caucus identify potential
candidates, indicated he was also disappointed in the CHC's
decision. He suggested the group's position undermines their
supposedly shared interest in increasing the number of Hispanics in
Congress. "We would feel differently. We obviously would like to see
Latino Members support other Latino candidates," Gonzalez said. Few
House Democrats are more concerned about a possible primary
challenge from a Hispanic than Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (Texas),
whose Fort Worth-area district is now roughly 30 percent Latino.
Texas Republicans, who control the state Senate and governor's
office and expect to have the upper hand in redistricting, have
talked up a plan to redraw Frost into a seat with a strong Hispanic
tilt. His current district, which stretches southeast of Fort Worth,
also has a substantial African-American population.
Frost dismissed concerns that any such change
could hinder his re-election bid. "I've had a significant Hispanic
population in my district in the past, and I've always had very
significant support," he said. "Whatever district is drawn for me,
I'll campaign hard, and I expect to do well. Other Anglo incumbents
who have previously represented the Hispanic community will continue
to do well among Hispanic voters." Nonetheless, Frost, who also
heads up the redistricting effort for House Democrats, applauded the
CHC's decision. He said it will work to the benefit of Hispanic
interests in the long run by ensuring that Latinos "will be a
powerful voice in [the] districts" where they have a strong
presence. "Whoever is elected will owe a good bit of his electoral
victory to the Hispanic community," Frost said. "They will have a
greater influence with incumbents all over the country and they can
go to those incumbents and say, We provided the difference in
getting you re-elected.' That will be helpful in getting their
legislation passed. It's a very important thing for them to do."
Reyes, who said Hispanics have a "strong shot" at winning six new
seats, refused to give any details about candidates the group is
considering giving support to except to disclose that the CHC has
compiled a preliminary list of "about six to 10" possibilities and
that Dario Herrera, chairman of the Clark County Commission in
Nevada, is one of them.
Armed with support from top Nevada Democrats,
Herrera has said he plans to run in the new House seat Nevada
received in reapportionment. But he could face a primary fight
against fellow Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, who is black. An
evaluation committee headed by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) will
be vetting candidates for the CHC. Reyes said California, Colorado,
Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and "the Northwest" offer the best
Hispanic pickup opportunities. Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), who is
heading up the group's fundraising committee, CHC BOLDPAC, filled in
a few of the holes. Among other things, he said, the CHC is working
on a roster of potential candidates who have not "been through the
Congressional mill" before, rather than recycling previous Hispanic
One possible exception Baca cited, however, was
Regina Montoya Coggins, a Texas Democrat who challenged Rep. Pete
Sessions (R) in 2000. He also indicated that Hispanics were
particularly excited about a challenger (whom he wouldn't name) to
Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), whose district is now one-quarter
Hispanic. Sally Havice (D), a Latina state Assemblywoman from Long
Beach, announced her candidacy for the seat last Wednesday. Havice
may face a primary challenge. "We don't want to throw our money
away," Baca said, suggesting that a number of Hispanic candidates
recruited in recent election cycles had been non-starters.
"Viability is the key" to winning the CHC's support. Baca said the
PAC, which will have its first fundraiser May 2, is trying to
collect enough money so that the committee will be able to spend as
much as $1 million on each of its targeted races. Gersh agreed that
California and Texas will likely produce opportunities for Hispanic
Democrats and also noted that Florida and Nevada are fertile
territories for the GOP. "I've got no doubt that there will be more
Hispanics running and, hopefully, winning," Gersh said.
However, Gersh also cited a series of factors
that augur against strong Hispanic gains in the next elections. For
one thing, roughly a third of Hispanics are Republican, making the
community less capable of coalescing around one candidate, as
African-Americans have done with striking results. There are now 38
members in the Congressional Black Caucus. The CHC has only 18, even
though the Hispanic population has burgeoned over the past decade.
Then there are the numbers themselves. Gersh suggested they could be
misleading because a significant segment of the Hispanic population
is either in this country illegally, is too young to vote or has not
yet been awarded citizenship.
Gersh also said that Hispanic incumbents could
very well be another obstacle. Many of their districts, he noted,
are predominantly Latino because they were designed to produce
Hispanic lawmakers; portions of those districts may have to be
siphoned off to create new Hispanic ones. "The question is whether
some lawmakers who are currently in office are willing to [accept]
that," said Gersh, who believes that Hispanic gains will most likely
come in newly created seats rather than in challenges to incumbents.
He predicted "maybe three to five" such seats after redistricting.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, mentioned a practical obstacle to increasing
the number of Hispanics on Capitol Hill: a paucity of top-tier
candidates. According to Gonzalez, there are 5,138 Latinos holding
elected posts or appointed statewide offices. But only 200 Latinos
currently serve in state legislatures across the country, and a
majority of them started serving in the 1990s. "In terms of a pool
of people who are looking to move to that next level, it's very
Greater Political Power Following Census
By Robert Tanner
When Pepe Mercado's father opened a luncheonette
31 years ago, he offered a taste of home for fellow Puerto Ricans
who were streaming into a city of Italian, Irish and blacks. Now,
for the first time, Hispanics from many countries outnumber all
other groups in this one-time industrial center: new Census numbers
show Hispanics make up 50.1 percent of the city's 149,922 residents.
Mercado's son, looking past plates of spicy chopped liver and stewed
pig ears, thinks government ought to catch up and reflect the faces
at the diner's counter. "It's our time," he says.
The same cry is being heard throughout the
nation as political maps everywhere must be redrawn in the
once-in-a-decade process of redistricting. Explosive population
growth has given Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic groups a shot at
a political voice - a new Asian congressman for California, perhaps,
or the first Hispanic state senator in New Jersey. At the local
government level, there's a chance for Indians, Palestinians,
Vietnamese and other groups to elect representatives. But for
several reasons - party politics, court decisions and conflicts
between minorities among them - it won't be easy. Redistricting
follows the release of Census numbers. Maps must be redrawn so
political districts are equal in size at each level of government.
New Jersey and Virginia, which have state legislative elections this
autumn, are redistricting first.
The other states, with elections in 2002, won't
need to finish redistricting for months. Party politics always plays
a major role in redistricting, and in Virginia the Republicans are
in control. The GOP-controlled legislature decides on the maps and
the governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, must agree. Hispanics do not
figure to gain much, if anything, there. Gilmore has reached out to
Hispanics in northern Virginia, though their numbers are still too
small to ensure a Hispanic representative. Blacks are struggling to
maintain the gains they've achieved in the past. New Jersey, like a
handful of other states, has tried to reduce political infighting by
putting redistricting in the hands of a 10-member commission - half
appointed by Democrats, half by Republicans. It hasn't helped. The
commission deadlocked, and with a decision due Monday, a judge has
appointed a political science professor as a tiebreaker. Hispanics
in New Jersey want representation equal their 13 percent statewide
population. That would mean 10 Hispanics in the state Assembly
(there are now five), and five senators (none currently). With the
commission working behind closed doors, it's hard to say whether
their goal will be achieved.
But it won't be for lack of trying. Late last
month, Hispanic lawmakers presented a proposed map of their own for
commissioners to consider. "Power is never voluntarily given up,
you're never invited to get a seat at the table," said New Jersey
Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo, a Democrat. "You have to almost take
the seat yourself." Minorities arguments can be lost in the bigger
battle that shadows all redistricting efforts: Politics. Each party
hopes to gain the advantage for the coming decade. Democrats have
promised to spend $13 million on redistricting this time around;
Republicans are more circumspect. Analysts say the stakes could be a
10-seat swing in the U.S. House. "This is up close and personal,"
said Tom Hofeller, a redistricting expert for the Republican
National Committee. "It's a very, very political activity." And the
rules for redistricting are changing along with the nation's
The 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent court
decisions gave tools to minority groups seeking equal
representation, bringing sweeping changes, particularly for blacks
in the South. But recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court seem
to have diminished the importance of race in redistricting. Now,
race and ethnicity are considered as just one factor. The geography
of a community, its interests, its history all must be weighed,
redistricting experts say. The new approach, however, has yet to be
tested, says Laughlin McDonald, a voting rights expert with the
American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta. "Nobody knows what the
rules are, they're very conflicting." Those conflicts may well end
up in court, McDonald and others said.
And there are more potential conflicts on the
ground, as minority groups wind up elbow-to-elbow. Many predict
battles, especially in urban areas where, in the past few decades,
blacks have struggled for representation. "You're going to see
Hispanic politicians make the same demands of black politicians as
blacks made of whites," said Paula McClain, a Duke University
political science professor. '"We want city council seats, police
officers, school boards."' In places like Virginia, where Asians and
Hispanics are concentrated in the suburbs of Washington, the
communities are still too new to become politically involved.
"You're trying to survive," said Karen Narasaki, executive director
of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium in
Washington. "It takes a while to establish yourself and get fully
involved." Asian advocates, for now, are focused on New York and
California. Hispanics are pursuing a broader approach, paralleling
their larger numbers nationwide. For all the potential conflicts,
Lizabeth Vasquez, helping her dad at the Paterson diner, is hoping
the final outcome is that more of her people end up in office. "They
grew up in your community," she said as her 3-year-old daughter
clung to her hip. "They have more of an understanding."
Democracy In a Noose
By David Lebedoff
April 7, 2001
In almost every congressional district in
America, it was impossible for the incumbent to lose last November.
Only two members of the House of Representatives were defeated at
the polls -- out of 435! In fact, the House has been largely removed
from the electoral process. Practically every seat has been
deliberately made safe for one party or the other. The voters are
essentially irrelevant. The incumbent can serve as long as he or she
remains alive or free from truly epochal scandal. The culprit in
this state of affairs is the census, or rather what we do with the
census figures collected every 10 years.
We redistrict. We draw new lines deliberately
designed to keep the incumbents from losing. Those lines are a noose
around democracy. Who draws them? It's supposed to be the state
legislatures, but often they can't do the job. Why? For the same
reason that kids can't grade their own exams: conflict of interest.
State legislators want to help their own parties at the
congressional level. Very frequently, what they come up with is
unconstitutional. Then the job has to be passed on to someone else.
In the past, this has often been a panel of federal judges. Now, the
quality of our federal judiciary is very high, and life tenure goes
a long way toward dissolving the bonds of party fealty.
So you might think that the federal panels would
have done a good job of redistricting. You would be wrong. In almost
every district, their handiwork shows signs of partisan
gerrymandering. It's not gerrymandering in favor of Republicans or
Democrats; the mischief is bipartisan. It makes one district safe
for one party and the adjoining district safe for the other. The
truth is that both parties want it that way. Incumbents desire safer
districts. Democratic members of Congress want more Democratic
voters in their districts; Republican members want more Republicans.
So when it's time to redistrict, the people doing it simply draw a
line like a lasso and rope the Democrats out of the Republican
district next door, which of course makes that district even more
Republican, and vice versa. The traffic is two-way. (It rather
resembles the Muslim-Hindu cross-migrations just after the partition
The judges go along with this because both
parties do. The parties drafted the plans that the judges often only
tinker with. The result is that the incumbent cannot be defeated,
and the voters in effect are disenfranchised. Members of Congress
fear only their own party, not the voice of the people. In a
district where a party can't lose, the party faithful can afford the
sick luxury of being inflexible. If an incumbent doesn't toe a very
narrow line, there goes funding and endorsement. Since the last
census, a U.S. Supreme Court decision has made it likelier that
redistricting litigation will at least begin in state, rather than
federal courts. But the change of forum matters less than the
political dynamic, which remains the same: Make each district
All the talk about term limits has been
misdirected; it's aimed at the symptom, not the cause. The symptom
is the embarrassing fact that incumbent congressmen almost never
lose. The cause is not unlimited terms; it's the gerrymandering of
each district in the first place. Since the recent evisceration of
the British House of Lords, the American House of Representatives
remains perhaps the closest thing to a legislative body whose
members serve for life. It's this invulnerability that has
depopulated our parties. Congressional voters in the electoral
minority think their votes don't count, so they stay home. If
they're in the majority party, they think their votes aren't needed,
and so they stay home. The broad tents of politics past have been
reduced to foxholes, defended angrily by fanatics. The public senses
this; that's why Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota.
And Ventura knows this. That's why he shocked both parties in his
home state by announcing plans for a citizen redistricting
commission to eliminate safe districts and to make each contest
competitive among Republicans and Democrats and independents.
He's got the right idea. The Framers intended
the census as a tool to help make congressional districts more
representative, not less. The redistricting mechanisms that are now
used to erase our votes are probably unconstitutional. They
certainly don't sound like due process. But we're running out of
time for lawsuits. Soon lines will be drawn to ensure another
undemocratic decade. Perhaps public outrage will do the trick.
Perhaps the wise jurists who soon will be asked to draw new lines
will place a higher priority on giving each party a fighting chance
in as many districts as possible. Right now everyone is saying that
we need to find a clearer way to cast and count votes before the
next election. But that's not nearly as urgent a need as changing
the way we draw congressional district lines. Unlosable districts
are a far greater threat to the voter than butterfly ballots. Our
voting machines may disenfranchise thousands of voters. Our
political machines are disenfranchising almost everyone in the
David Lebedoff is a
writer and lawyer in