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“Political Apartheid”: Keeping Black Voters In Their Place

The Republicans who now control the legislatures and governorships in the deep South are using the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 to create a system of political apartheid.

No state demonstrates this better than Alabama, where in 2010 Republicans took over the State Senate and House for the first time since Reconstruction. This is a signal example of the decline of black power in the South.

Mike Hubbard, a Republican from Auburn, who is speaker of the Alabama House, engineered the 2010 takeover of the legislature. He was forthright in his 2012 book — “Storming the Statehouse: The Campaign that Liberated Alabama from 136 years of Democrat Rule” — about his techniques for displacing white Democratic incumbents:

“We needed to find our targets and the candidates to take them on, so I commissioned an in-depth study of voting patterns in various districts represented by white Democratic legislators across the state.”

Before the 2010 election, there were 60 Democrats in the Alabama State House, 34 of them white, 26 black. Now, there are 36 Democrats, 26 of them black, 10 of them white. In the State Senate, the number of Democrats fell from 20 – 13 white, 7 black – to 11 Democrats, 4 white, 7 black.

Once Alabama Republicans gained control of the levers of power, they wasted no time using the results of the 2010 Census to reinforce their position of dominance. Newly drawn lines further corralled black voters into legislative districts with large African-American majorities, a tactic political professionals call “packing and stacking.” Redrawn district lines minimize the potential of coalitions between a minority of white voters and a solid core of black voters. Under these circumstances, white Republican voting blocs remain dominant.

At the core of this strategy is an unexpected twist: Republicans in Alabama and in many other states have gone out of their way to protect black legislative districts and black legislators from Republican or white Democratic challenges.

Have Republican legislators in the South become civil and voting rights champions? No. They are promoting the interests of African-American voters in order to enhance the ability of Republican officials whose real targets, white Democrats, are struggling to cope with the steady decline of loyal “Yellow Dog” supporters.

To achieve this goal, Republican state legislators purposely keep the influence of Democratic-leaning minorities to a minimum in districts with white majorities. Alabama is a state where 80 percent of whites voted Republican in the 2004 presidential elections; 90 percent did so in 2012.

“The most important part of the plan was to preserve minority districts,” said Jim McClendon, the Republican state representative from Springville who co-chaired the Alabama redistricting committee. In a phone interview, McClendon rejected suggestions that the Republican goal was to make it harder for white Democrats to win re-election to state legislative office: “No, not at all. The voters are making it tougher on white Democrats.”

Out of a total of 105 State House districts, 27 have black majorities, one of which is represented by a white Democrat. In those districts, the average percentage of black voters is 66.4 percent, far above the percentage election experts now consider critical if the goal is to insure that minorities have the ability “to elect their preferred candidates of choice,” as the Voting Rights Act puts it.

In a federal court challenge to the state’s Republican-drawn redistricting plan brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, Theodore S. Arrington, a professor emeritus of political science from the University of North Carolina and an expert in election law, testified on Aug. 12 that 50 percent plus one vote would be enough in Alabama.

In redrawing the State Senate and House lines after the 2010 Census, the number of black “influence” districts – majority white districts with enough blacks so that minorities and a relatively small percentage of whites could together elect a Democrat – were kept to a minimum, and in some cases eliminated altogether.

Before redistricting, for example, there were five majority-white State Senate districts in which there were potentially enough blacks, Hispanics and other minorities to form an alliance with white Democrats to win in November. According to documents provided by James Blacksher, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the federal court case brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, these State Senate districts had an average percentage of minority voters of 35.9 before redistricting; after redistricting, the average percentage of minority voters in the five most integrated majority-white districts fell to 29.5. In other words, there was a significant decline in the number of majority-white state legislative districts in which minorities might have enough votes to form an alliance with still-Democratic whites.

McClendon, the Republican state representative from Springville, now plans to run in 2014 for State Senate in District 11. Before redistricting, the voting age population of that district was 65.5 percent white; after redistricting, it is 81.9 percent white, virtually guaranteeing a Republican victory.

In the State House districts with majority white populations, only two had minority populations exceeding 30 percent, 32.0 and 34.5 percent.

None of the 78 majority white State House districts falls into the racial “middle ground” with minority percentages in the 36 to 49 percent range. These are the kind of state districts most likely to produce biracial coalitions, and most likely to elect white Democrats, not only in the South but nationwide.

Arrington testified that the intent of Republican redistricting was to prevent blacks “from forming effective cross-race coalitions” both in elections and in the state legislature. “If you’re restricted to just 25 to 30 percent of the districts in the Legislature, and you have no ability to form coalitions with whites, then your ability to participate politically is restricted. It’s not participating equally in the political process,” he said.

Blacksher, the lawyer representing the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in its suit, said in a phone interview that the Republicans’ goal is “to make all Democratic seats black, all Republican seats white.”

According to the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus,

“Republican lawmakers packed black voters into 27 House districts and eight Senate districts. The redistricting plans ‘purposely perpetuate and attempt to restore Alabama’s historical policy of segregating African Americans in party politics.’ ”

McClendon flatly denied such intent: “that wasn’t part of the plan,” he told me.

The Republican redistricting plan has had some unexpected consequences, with significant racial ramifications, one of which grows out of the state’s unusually strong restrictions on the powers of city and county officials. Alabama does not have home rule and requires instead that the state legislature approve virtually all local laws, including laws governing Jefferson County, which encompasses Birmingham.

The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus contends in a jurisdictional statement asking the Supreme Court to take up the case that

“The legislature enacted plans that place Jefferson County in 18 House districts, only 8 of them majority-black. All of the majority black districts lie entirely inside Jefferson County, but 6 of the 10 majority-white districts cross into 6 other counties. The 2012 Senate plan puts Jefferson County in 8 districts, 3 majority-black and 5 majority-white. All 3 of the majority-black Senate districts lie entirely inside Jefferson County, but all 5 of the majority-white districts cross the Jefferson County boundary to include parts of 11 other counties. Altogether, 155,279 non-residents vote for members of Jefferson County’s House delegation, and 428,101 people residing in other counties vote for members of the Jefferson County Senate delegation.”

The consequences are substantial, according to the statement:

“White legislators will continue being able to block local revenue bills, whose defeat has helped drive Jefferson County into bankruptcy and has closed Cooper Green Mercy Hospital for the poor.”

One solution would be for Congress to amend the Voting Rights Act to more explicitly address the political reality that African-Americans in the South are now mobilized and turn out in far higher percentages than was the case when the Act was written in 1965.

Arrington testified before the Middle Alabama Federal District Court that because of increased turnout, blacks in Alabama are, in fact, able to elect politicians of their own choosing in districts that are 50 percent or less minority – that the 60-70 percent levels that civil rights leaders called for decades ago are no longer required.

Changes in African-American political mobilization actually offer much stronger potential for integrated politics than in the past, when black political representation required supermajorities of minority voters. The elections of Barack Obama to the presidency, of Cory Booker to the Senate in New Jersey and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts clearly show that such biracial alliances are now achievable.

Republicans, however, will do what they can to prevent pro-Democratic trends from emerging in regions they dominate. After successfully winning control of the South, Republicans will not let go of the reins. In that famously vicious political blood sport, redistricting, they will exploit their ability to deploy the cloak of civil rights to maintain and strengthen a politically advantageous segregation of the races.


By: Thomas B. Edsall, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, November 6, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Republicans, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP’s White Southern Republican Problem”: Following Similar Path Of “Massive Resistance” Taken After Brown V. Board Decision

In 1956, segregationist Southern Democrats outlined a policy of “massive resistance” in response to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools.

Today, the Republican Party, particularly in the South, is following a similar path of massive resistance when it comes to Obamacare and any other major policy initiative proposed by President Obama. According to The New York Times, twenty-six states—all-but-three controlled by the GOP—have declined the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, thereby denying health insurance coverage to 8 million Americans. “Every state in the Deep South, with the exception of Arkansas, has rejected the expansion,” writes the Times.

The GOP’s obsession with defunding Obamacare has caused them to shut down the government despite the public outcry. Many factors play into the shutdown, but a leading cause is the fact the Republican Party is whiter, more Southern and more conservative than ever before.

Writes Charlie Cook:

Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent, closely tracking the 5-point drop in the white share of the electorate measured by exit polls between 2004 and 2012. But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.

As Congress has become more polarized along party lines, it’s become more racially polarized, too. In 2000, House Republicans represented 59 percent of all white U.S. residents and 40 percent of all nonwhite residents. But today, they represent 63 percent of all whites and just 38 percent of all nonwhites.

Even though House Republicans do not represent the changing face of the country, they have a huge structural advantage when it comes to the makeup of Congress, especially following the 2010 redistricting cycle, when the GOP controlled the process in twenty states compared to seven for Democrats. Writes Cook:

The number of strongly Democratic districts—those with a score of D+5 or greater at the presidential level—decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts—those with a score of R+5 or greater—increased from 175 to 183. When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other, the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.

This phenomenon is most acute in the South, where the GOP systematically packed as many Democratic voters, particularly African-Americans, into as few districts as possible in order to ensure huge Republicans majorities across the region (see my story “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South”). Here’s the gist:

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.

After the 1994 elections, white Southern Republicans accounted for sixty-two members of the 230-member House GOP majority. Today, white Southern Republicans account for ninety-seven members out of the 233-member House GOP majority. That’s a pretty remarkable shift and one that is not likely to end any time soon. “In all but one election since 1976, the proportion of Southerners in the House Republican caucus has gone up,” says Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Of the fifty-four members of the congressional Tea Party Caucus—which is most vociferously telling John Boehner not to compromise—33 are from Southern states. Of the eighty members of the so-called House GOP “suicide caucus” who urged Boehner to defund Obamacare, “half of these districts are concentrated in the South,” writes Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. As long as ultraconservative Southerners from lily-white districts hold the balance of power in the Congress, we shouldn’t be surprised that obstruction and dysfunction is the result.

By: Ari Berman, The Nation, October 4, 2013

October 7, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Rise Of The New Confederacy”: By Thought, Word And Deed, They Must Be Making Jefferson Davis Proud

It took on new force with fears of the federal government in Washington interfering with their cherished way of life. It gathered steam with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And it all came into full flower when shore batteries fired on Fort Sumter. It was the spirit of the Old Confederacy, a state-sponsored rebellion hellbent on protecting its “peace and safety” from the party that took possession of the government on March 4, 1861.

The rebels launched a grisly war against the Union. In his inaugural address, Lincoln warned the Confederacy: “You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”

“Peace and safety” are ideals drawn from South Carolina’s Dec. 24, 1860, declaration of secession from the Union. The expression was designed to encompass all that the Deep South states held dear — chiefly, their existence as sovereign states and their ability to decide the propriety of their domestic institutions, including slavery.

This virulent hostility to the Union led the Old Confederacy to conclude — as expressed by South Carolina — that with Lincoln’s elevation to the presidency, “the slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”

Federal government as the enemy.

Today there is a New Confederacy, an insurgent political force that has captured the Republican Party and is taking up where the Old Confederacy left off in its efforts to bring down the federal government.

No shelling of a Union fort, no bloody battlefield clashes, no Good Friday assassination of a hated president — none of that nauseating, horrendous stuff. But the behavior is, nonetheless, malicious and appalling.

The New Confederacy, as churlish toward President Obama as the Old Confederacy was to Lincoln, has accomplished what its predecessor could not: It has shut down the federal government, and without even firing a weapon or taking 620,000 lives, as did the Old Confederacy’s instigated Civil War.

Not stopping there, however, the New Confederacy aims to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States, setting off economic calamity at home and abroad — all in the name of “fiscal sanity.”

Its members are as extreme as their ideological forebears. It matters not to them, as it didn’t to the Old Confederacy, whether they ultimately go down in flames. So what? For the moment, they are getting what they want: a federal government in the ditch, restrained from seeking to create a more humane society that extends justice for all.

The ghosts of the Old Confederacy have to be envious.

South Carolina wept and wailed as it withdrew from the Union, citing the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision when it noted that states in the North had elevated to citizenship “persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.”

Not to worry, Old South, the New Confederacy’s spirit is on the move.

In June, the Supreme Court got rid of fundamental legal protections against racial discrimination in voting.

Legislation aimed at suppressing votes is pending across the country, notably in the Deep South.

Hold on to that Confederate money, y’all. Jim Crow just might rise again.

But it’s here in Washington where the New Confederacy’s firebrands are really holding court. Many of them first appeared after the 2010 midterm elections and when the scope of the president’s economic recovery program was taking form. Unlike their predecessors, however, members of this group hail from Dixie and beyond, though I stress there is no evidence that the New shares the racist views of the Old. The view on race is not the common denominator. The view on government is.

These conservative extremists, roughly 60 of them by CNN’s count, represent congressional districts in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

But don’t go looking for a group by the name of New Confederacy. They earned that handle from me because of their visceral animosity toward the federal government and their aversion to compassion for those unlike themselves.

They respond, however, to the label “tea party.” By thought, word and deed, they must be making Jefferson Davis proud today.


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 4, 2013

October 7, 2013 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Escaping A Rising Tide”: Beyond Black And White, New Force Reshapes The South

The Deep South was, quite literally, a black and white world in 1965, when Congress approved the Voting Rights Act, sweeping away barriers that kept African-Americans from the polls.

And the Supreme Court decision on Tuesday, which struck down a key part of the law, is certain to set off a series of skirmishes over voting regulations between the white Republicans who control Southern state legislatures and civil rights groups seeking to maximize black voter clout.

But those who have studied the region closely say that a more unstoppable force is approaching that will alter the power structure throughout the South and upend the understanding of politics there: demographic change.

The states with the highest growth in the Latino population over the last decade are in the South, which is also absorbing an influx of people of all races moving in from other parts of the country.

While most experts expect battles over voting restrictions in the coming years, they say that ultimately those efforts cannot hold back the wave of change that will bring about a multiethnic South.

“All the voter suppression measures in the world aren’t going to be enough to eventually stem this rising tide,” said Representative David E. Price, a veteran North Carolina Democrat and a political scientist by training.

As the region continues to change, Republicans who control legislatures in the South will confront a basic question: how to retain political power when the demographics are no longer on your side.

The temptation in the short term, now that the Supreme Court has significantly relaxed federal oversight, may be to pass laws and gerrymander districts to protect Republican political power and limit the influence of the new more diverse population.

But that could be devastating to the party’s long-term prospects, especially if it is seen as discriminating against the groups that will make up an ever larger share of the future electorate.

The law guaranteeing political equality for blacks was passed nearly a half-century ago, in the wake of the startling images of violence in Selma, Ala. The nationally televised coverage shook America’s conscience and marked what President Lyndon B. Johnson would say in a speech to Congress was a moment where “history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”

The act eventually imposed federal oversight over nine states and other jurisdictions — among them, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — requiring them to seek preapproval for election laws, like voter identification measures, redistricting maps and rules related to the mechanics of elections, like polling hours.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday essentially struck down those preapproval requirements, which had deterred states and localities from passing legislation that they knew would meet with resistance from civil rights advocates and result in protracted fights.

Alabama, for example, passed a law in 2011 requiring that voters show photo identification at the polls. The state put off submitting the legislation to the Department of Justice, however — a delay some Democrats attribute to the state’s Republicans waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

But the most meaningful impact of the ruling may be seen in the decade to come, when Southern states — freed from federal preclearance requirements — take up the redrawing of Congressional and legislative seats amid much more complex racial politics than in the days of Jim Crow.

As the white share of the population shrinks, Republican leaders are going to grapple with the same problem their Democratic counterparts faced as whites drifted from their ancestral party in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The South is going to start looking more like California eventually,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

For years, black and white legislators in the South have agreed to district lines that, thanks to racial packing, create safe seats for both black Democrats and white Republicans. The Obama administration’s Department of Justice approved nearly every Southern redistricting map, written by Republicans, after the 2010 census.

The one exception, Texas, offers a window into what the future may look like in a multiracial South. With almost 90 percent of its growth owing to a mix of new Hispanic, Asian and black voters, Republican legislators in Texas drew new districts in 2011 that were rejected by a federal court as discriminatory because they didn’t sufficiently recognize the political power of the new demographics.

Just as Texas is now, Georgia will, thanks to polyglot Atlanta, eventually become a state where it will be difficult for Republicans to produce a redistricting map that protects their majority in perpetuity without drawing legal challenges.

Georgia’s Hispanic population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to federal census data. In suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County, the most heavily Hispanic locality in the state, the Latino population rose to 162,035 from 64,137.

“The growing nonwhite share of the electorate in Georgia and other Southern states represents a threat to the continued domination of the current majority party, which means that it is in the political interest of the majority party to do whatever it can, whether through control of redistricting or through the enactment of restrictive voter ID laws, to limit the impact of these trends,” said Alan I. Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist.

State Representative Stacey Abrams of Georgia, the Democratic leader, said such efforts would trigger a backlash.

“They’re going to be tempted to try to take advantage of this, but they risk permanently alienating a population that will eventually be able to take its revenge,” Ms. Abrams said. “Given how quickly our Asian and Latino populations are growing and how much of the electorate they’re going to represent, to constrain their voting power would be a recipe for disaster.”

Ms. Abrams’s Republican counterpart, the House speaker, David Ralston, said the Voting Rights Act decision was an affirmation that his native region “has changed, has matured,” and that his party would demonstrate that by appealing to Georgia’s changing face.

“If we’re going to govern responsibly and lead,” Mr. Ralston said, “then we have to recognize that Georgia is a big state, it’s a diverse state, and it’s a state that’s changing.”

By: Jonathan Martin, The New York Times, June 25, 2013

July 1, 2013 Posted by | Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Marching Back Across The Bridge”: Once Again, White Southerners Get To Decide Who’s Worthy To Vote

With a kind of sick fascination, I’m trying to keep track with how rapidly southern Republicans take advantage of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to restrict the franchise. You’d think after years of claiming that Section 4 and Section 5 were unnecessary, they’d pause a decent interval before proving the point of voting rights advocates that prior review of voting changes in the Deep South were a practical necessity. But oh no, per this AP story from Bill Barrow:

Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination.

After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.

Meanwhile, in Washington, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a lonely Republican voice indicating, however nonspecifically, an interest in congressional action to “fix” Section 4. From the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, we’ve heard crickets. And across the South, we’ve heard cheers from Republicans eager to return to a time when the feds didn’t interfere with the sovereign ability of white southerners to decide who was worthy to vote. It’s like watching a tape of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in reverse.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 26, 2013

June 28, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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