Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > USA: How the GOP Is Resegregating the South

USA: How the GOP Is Resegregating the South

Tuesday 7 February 2012, by siawi3

Ari Berman

Source: The Nation, February 2, 2012

http://www.thenation.com/article/165976/how-gop-resegregating-south

North Carolina State Senator Eric Mansfield was born in
1964, a year before the passage of the Voting Rights
Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for African-
Americans. He grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and moved to
North Carolina when he was stationed at Fort Bragg. He
became an Army doctor, opening a practice in
Fayetteville after leaving the service. Mansfield says
he was always “very cynical about politics” but decided
to run for office in 2010 after being inspired by Barack
Obama’s presidential run.

He ran a grassroots campaign in the Obama mold, easily
winning the election with 67 percent of the vote. He
represented a compact section of northwest Fayetteville
that included Fort Bragg and the most populous areas of
the city. It was a socioeconomically diverse district,
comprising white and black and rich and poor sections of
the city. Though his district had a black voting age
population (BVAP) of 45 percent, Mansfield, who is
African-American, lives in an old, affluent part of town
that he estimates is 90 percent white. Many of his
neighbors are also his patients.

But after the 2010 census and North Carolina’s once-per-
decade redistricting process-which Republicans control
by virtue of winning the state’s General Assembly for
the first time since the McKinley administration-
Mansfield’s district looks radically different. It
resembles a fat squid, its large head in an adjoining
rural county with little in common with Mansfield’s
previously urban district, and its long tentacles
reaching exclusively into the black neighborhoods of
Fayetteville. The BVAP has increased from 45 to 51
percent, as white voters were surgically removed from
the district and placed in a neighboring Senate district
represented by a white Republican whom GOP leaders want
to protect in 2012. Mansfield’s own street was divided
in half, and he no longer represents most of the people
in his neighborhood. His new district spans 350 square
miles, roughly the distance from Fayetteville to
Atlanta. Thirty-three voting precincts in his district
have been divided to accommodate the influx of new black
voters. "My district has never elected a nonminority
state senator, even though minorities were never more
than 45 percent of the vote,“Mansfield says.”I didn’t
need the help. I was doing OK."

Mansfield’s district is emblematic of how the
redistricting process has changed the political
complexion of North Carolina, as Republicans attempt to
turn this racially integrated swing state into a GOP
bastion, with white Republicans in the majority and
black Democrats in the minority for the next decade.
"We’re having the same conversations we had forty years
ago in the South, that black people can only represent
black people and white people can only represent white
people,“says Mansfield.”I’d hope that in 2012 we’d
have grown better than that." Before this year, for
example, there were no Senate districts with a BVAP of
50 percent or higher. Now there are nine. A lawsuit
filed by the NAACP and other advocacy groups calls the
redistricting maps "an intentional and cynical use of
race that exceeds what is required to ensure fairness to
previously disenfranchised racial minority voters."

And it’s not just happening in North Carolina. In
virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional
and state level, Republicans-to protect and expand their
gains in 2010-have increased the number of minority
voters in majority-minority districts represented
overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the
minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by
white Democrats. "What’s uniform across the South is
that Republicans are using race as a central basis in
drawing districts for partisan advantage," says Anita
Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive
director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for
Social Justice. "The bigger picture is to ultimately
make the Democratic Party in the South be represented
only by people of color." The GOP’s long-term goal is to
enshrine a system of racially polarized voting that will
make it harder for Democrats to win races on local,
state, federal and presidential levels. Four years after
the election of Barack Obama, which offered the promise
of a new day of postracial politics in states like North
Carolina, Republicans are once again employing a
Southern Strategy that would make Richard Nixon and Lee
Atwater proud.

The consequences of redistricting in North Carolina-one
of the most important swing states in the country-could
determine who controls Congress and the presidency in
2012. Democrats hold seven of the state’s thirteen
Congressional seats, but after redistricting they could
control only three-the largest shift for Republicans at
the Congressional level in any state this year. Though
Obama won eight of the thirteen districts, under the new
maps his vote would be contained in only three heavily
Democratic districts-all of which would have voted 68
percent or higher for the president in 2008-while the
rest of the districts would have favored John McCain by
55 percent or more. "GOP candidates could win just over
half of the statewide vote for Congress and end up with
62 percent to 77 percent of the seats," found John Hood,
president of the conservative John Locke Foundation.

The same holds true at the state level, where only 10
percent of state legislative races can be considered a
tossup. "If these maps hold, Republicans have a solid
majority plus a cushion in the North Carolina House and
Senate," says J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of
political science at Catawba College. "They don’t even
need to win the swing districts." North Carolina is now
a political paradox: a presidential swing state with few
swing districts. Republicans have turned what Bitzer
calls an “aberration”-the Tea Party wave of 2010-"into
the norm."

Republicans accomplished this remarkable feat by drawing
half the state’s black population of 2.2 million people,
who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, into a fifth of
all legislative and Congressional districts. As a
result, black voters are twice as likely as white voters
to see their communities divided. "The new North
Carolina legislative lines take the cake for the most
grotesquely drawn districts I’ve ever seen," says Jeff
Wice, a Democratic redistricting lawyer in Washington.

According to data compiled by Bob Hall, executive
director of Democracy North Carolina, precincts that are
90 percent white have a 3 percent chance of being split,
and precincts that are 80 percent black have a 12
percent chance of being split, but precincts with a BVAP
between 15 and 45 percent have a 40 percent chance of
being split. Republicans "systematically moved [street]
blocks in or out of their precincts on the basis of
their race," found Ted Arrington, a redistricting expert
at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. "No
other explanation is possible given the statistical
data." Such trends reflect not just a standard partisan
gerrymander but an attack on the very idea of
integration. In one example, Senate redistricting chair
Bob Rucho admitted that Democratic State Senator Linda
Garrou was drawn out of her plurality African-American
district in Winston-Salem and into an overwhelmingly
white Republican district simply because she is white.
"The districts here take us back to a day of segregation
that most of us thought we’d moved away from," says
State Senator Dan Blue Jr., who in the 1990s was the
first African-American Speaker of the North Carolina
House.

Nationwide, Republicans have a major advantage in
redistricting heading into the November elections. The
party controls the process in twenty states, including
key swing states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia
and Wisconsin, compared with seven for Democrats (the
rest are home to either a split government or
independent redistricting commissions). Republicans
control more than four times as many seats at the
Congressional level, including two-thirds of the seventy
most competitive races of 2010.

This gives the GOP a major opportunity to build on its
gains from 2010. Today GOP Representative Paul Ryan,
nobody’s idea of a moderate, represents the median House
district in America based on party preference, according
to Dave Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political
Report. That district will become two points more
Republican after the current redistricting cycle. "The
fact of a Republican wave election on the eve of
redistricting means that Republican legislators are in
far better shape to shore up that wave," says Justin
Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School.
Though public dissatisfaction with GOP members of
Congress is at an all-time high, Republican dominance of
the redistricting process could prove an insurmountable
impediment to Democratic hopes of retaking the House,
where the GOP now has a fifty-one-seat edge. Speaker of
the House John Boehner predicts that the GOP’s
redistricting advantage will allow the party to retain
control of the House, perhaps for the next decade.

Aside from protecting vulnerable freshmen, which would
count as a major victory even if the GOP didn’t pick up
any new seats, the party’s biggest gains will come in
the South. Though the region has trended Republican at
the presidential level for decades, Democrats managed to
hang on to the Statehouses (which draw the redistricting
maps in most states) for a remarkable stretch of time.
Before 2010, Democrats controlled five Statehouses (in
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North
Carolina) and one chamber in two (Kentucky and
Virginia). Two years later, Republicans control every
Southern Statehouse except the Arkansas legislature and
Kentucky House.

Race has always been at the center of the Southern
Strategy, though not always in ways you’d expect. In
addition to pushing hot-button issues like busing and
welfare to appeal to white voters, Southern Republicans
formed an “unholy alliance” with black Southern
Democrats when it came to redistricting. In the 1980s
and ’90s, when white Democrats ruled the Statehouses,
Republicans supported new majority-minority districts
for black Democrats in select urban and rural areas in
exchange for an increased GOP presence elsewhere,
especially in fast-growing metropolitan suburbs. With
Democrats grouped in fewer areas, Republicans found it
easier to target white Democrats for extinction. Ben
Ginsberg, a prominent GOP election lawyer, memorably
termed the strategy “Project Ratfuck.”

Republicans prepared for the 2010 election with an eye
toward replicating and expanding this strategy. The
Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) unveiled
the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) in 2010 to
target Statehouse races and put Republicans in charge of
redistricting efforts following the election. Ed
Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National
Committee, became the group’s chair, while Chris
Jankowski, a corporate lobbyist in Virginia, handled
day-to-day operations. The group, which as a tax-exempt
527 could accept unlimited corporate donations, became
the self-described "lead Republican Redistricting
organization," taking over many of the functions of the
RNC. The RSLC attracted six- and seven-figure donations
from the likes of the US Chamber of Commerce, tobacco
companies Altria and Reynolds American, Blue Cross and
Blue Shield, the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads
and the American Justice Partnership, a conservative
legal group that has been a partner of the American
Legislative Exchange Council, a state-based conservative
advocacy group. Funding from these corporate interests
allowed the RSLC to spend $30 million on state races in
2010, including $1.2 million in North Carolina.

One of the group’s largest funders in North Carolina was
Art Pope, a furniture magnate who has bankrolled much of
the state’s conservative movement. Pope’s Variety
Wholesalers gave $36,500 to the RSLC in July 2010. The
RSLC then gave $1.25 million to a group called Real Jobs
NC to run attack ads against Democrats. In total, Pope
and Pope-supported entities spent $2.2 million on
twenty-two state legislative races, winning eighteen.
After the election, the GOP redistricting committees
hired the RSLC’s redistricting expert, Tom Hofeller, to
redraw North Carolina’s districts. He was paid with
state dollars through the General Assembly budget.
(Hofeller says he has also been “intensely involved” in
this cycle’s redistricting process in Alabama,
Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia.)

Pope has long been "the moving force behind Republican
redistricting efforts in North Carolina," says Dan Blue
Jr. (Pope says he supports an independent state
redistricting commission.) In 1992 Pope urged Blue, then
Statehouse Speaker, to create twenty-six majority-
minority districts. Blue refused, creating nineteen
instead. Pope then sued him. "He seemed to believe that
African-Americans were required to be represented by
African-Americans," Blue says. Twenty years later,
Hofeller enacted Pope’s strategy. "The best recent
example of success is in North Carolina," the RSLC wrote
in a July 2011 blog post.

The strategy was repeated in other Southern states
including Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina, as
Republicans created new majority-minority districts at
the state level as a means to pack Democrats into as few
as possible. They also increased the BVAP in existing
majority-minority Congressional districts held by
Democrats like Jim Clyburn in South Carolina and Bobby
Scott in Virginia, who have occupied their seats for
almost two decades.

Yet this year, unlike in past cycles, the unholy
alliance between white Republicans and black Democrats
has dissolved. Stacey Abrams, the first African-American
leader of the Georgia House, denounced the GOP plan to
create seven new majority-minority districts in the
Statehouse but eliminate the seats of nearly half the
white Democrats. "Republicans intentionally targeted
white Democrats, thinking that as an African-American
leader I wouldn’t fight against these maps because I got
an extra number of black seats,“she says.”I’m not the
chair of the `black caucus.’ I’m the leader of the
Democratic caucus. And the Democratic caucus has to be
racially integrated in order to be reflective of the
state.“Under the new GOP maps, Abrams says,”we will
have the greatest number of minority seats in Georgia
history and the least amount of power in modern
history."

Democrats accounted for 47 percent of the statewide vote
in Georgia in 2008 and 2010 but, thanks to
redistricting, can elect just 31 percent of Statehouse
members. Abrams is especially upset that Republicans
pitted incumbent white Democrats against incumbent black
Democrats in four House districts in Atlanta, which she
sees as an attempt to divide the party through ugly
racial politics. "They placed whites who represented
majority-minority districts against blacks who
represented majority-minority districts and enhanced the
number of minority voters in those districts in order to
wipe the white Democrats out," she explains. The new
districts slither across the metropolis to pick up as
many black voters as possible. Abrams says the new maps
“look like a bunch of snakes that got run over.”

The same thing happened in the Georgia Senate, where
Republicans targeted State Senator George Hooks, who has
been in the body since 1991 and is known as the "dean of
the Senate." Hooks represented the peanut farming
country of rural Southwest Georgia, including Plains,
the hometown of Jimmy Carter. Republicans dismantled his
district, which had a BVAP of 43 percent, and created a
new GOP district in North Georgia with a BVAP of 8
percent. They moved the black voters in his district
into two adjoining majority-minority districts and two
white Republican districts, and pitted Hooks against an
incumbent black Democrat in a district that is 59
percent black. His political career is likely finished.

The GOP similarly took aim at Representative John
Barrow, the last white Democrat from the Deep South in
the US House. Republicans increased the BVAP in three of
the four majority-minority Congressional districts
represented by Georgia Democrats but decreased the BVAP
from 42 to 33 percent in Barrow’s east Georgia seat,
moving 41,000 African-Americans in Savannah out of his
district. Just to be sure, they also drew Barrow’s home
out of the district as well. Based on population shifts-
Georgia gained one new seat from the 2010 census-the
district could have become a new majority-minority
district, but instead it’s much whiter and thus solidly
Republican.

As a consequence of redistricting, Republicans could
control ten of Georgia’s fourteen Congressional
districts, up from eight in 2010, and could hold a two-
thirds majority in the State Legislature, which would
allow the party to pass constitutional amendments
without a single Democratic vote. When the dust settles,
Georgia and North Carolina could send twenty
Republicans, five black Democrats and two white
Democrats to the US House. That’s a generous number of
Democrats compared with Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi
and South Carolina, which each have only one Democratic
Representative in Congress-all of them black, from
majority-minority districts.

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.

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.

In a recent speech about voting rights at the LBJ
presidential library in Austin, Attorney General Eric
Holder noted that “no fewer than five lawsuits” are
challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which he
called the “keystone of our voting rights laws.” Section
5 requires that states covered by the act receive pre-
clearance from the Justice Department or a three-judge
District Court in Washington for any election law
changes that affect minority voters.

Conservatives want to scrub this requirement. In a 2009
decision, the Supreme Court stopped short of declaring
Section 5 unconstitutional but asserted that "the Act’s
preclearance requirements and its coverage formula raise
serious constitutional questions." Justice Clarence
Thomas, in a dissent, sought to abolish Section 5,
arguing that intentional discrimination in voting "no
longer exists." But in September a US District Court
judge dismissed a challenge to Section 5, writing that
it "remains a `congruent and proportional remedy’ to the
21st century problem of voting discrimination in covered
jurisdictions." Voting rights experts expect the Supreme
Court to address this issue in the coming year.

Meanwhile, just as they’re seeking to declare Section 5
unconstitutional, Republicans are also invoking the VRA
as a justification for isolating minority voters.
“There’s no question that’s an unintended consequence,”
says Jankowski of the RSLC (which takes no position on
Section 5). "Republicans benefit from the requirement of
these majority-minority districts. It has hurt the
Democratic Party’s ability to compete in the South." But
Kareem Crayton, a redistricting expert at the UNC School
of Law, argues that Republicans "clearly decided to
ignore what federal law requires,“noting that”a party
that doesn’t like federal mandates all of a sudden
getting religion and talking about the importance of
federal voting rights is more than a little ironic."

The VRA states that lawmakers must not diminish the
ability of minority voters to participate in the
political process or elect a candidate of their choice.
"There’s nothing out there that says a state can’t draw
a 42 percent black district instead of a 50 percent
black district as long as black voters still have the
opportunity to elect a candidate of choice," argues Paul
Smith, a prominent redistricting lawyer at Jenner &
Block in Washington. The VRA, in other words, did not
compel Republicans to pack minority voters into heavily
Democratic districts. "Using the Voting Rights Act to
justify racial discrimination is anathema to the purpose
of the Voting Rights Act," says Stacey Abrams.

But it’s also difficult for voting rights advocates to
prove in federal court that packing minority voters into
majority-minority districts diminishes their ability to
elect candidates of choice. That’s why the Justice
Department has pre-cleared redistricting plans in every
Southern state so far except Texas, much to the chagrin
of civil rights activists. (Plaintiffs may have better
luck in state court in places like North Carolina, where
the court has acknowledged that civil rights groups have
raised "serious issues and arguments about, among other
things, the extent to which racial classifications were
used.“)”I have not been at all satisfied with the civil
rights division of the Justice Department under the
Obama administration," says Joe Reed, a longtime civil
rights activist and redistricting expert in Alabama.

Wasserman says the Justice Department is saving its
legal firepower to challenge restrictive voting laws
passed by Republicans in half a dozen Southern states
since 2010. The laws require proof of citizenship to
register to vote, cut back on early voting, curtailed
voter registration drives and required voters to produce
a government-issued ID before casting a ballot. The
department has already objected to South Carolina’s
voter ID law, since blacks are more likely than whites
to lack the necessary ID. "Every method that human
ingenuity can conceive of is being used to undermine,
dilute and circumvent the rights of minority voters to
enjoy the franchise," says Reed.

The use of race in redistricting is just one part of a
broader racial strategy used by Southern Republicans to
not only make it more difficult for minorities to vote
and to limit their electoral influence but to pass
draconian anti-immigration laws, end integrated busing,
drug-test welfare recipients and curb the ability of
death-row inmates to challenge convictions based on
racial bias. GOP presidential candidates have gotten in
on the act, with Newt Gingrich calling President Obama
“the best food-stamp president in American history.” The
new Southern Strategy, it turns out, isn’t very
different from the old one.