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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Redistricting Resegregates the South

By now, most Democrats are well aware of the GOP’s unprecedented voter suppression campaign. But there is another very troubling aspect of the Republicans’ project to obstruct voters they identify as pro-Democratic, distilled in the title of Ari Berman’s Nation article, “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South.” Berman explains:

…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…Before this year, for example, there were no Senate districts with a BVAP [black voting age population] 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.”
…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…”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.
…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…. 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.
…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.

It’s a chilling prospect for gridlock-weary voters. Berman points to the GOP’s edge in controlling the legislatures of 20 states, including FL, OH, MI, VA and WI, while the Dems only control the legislatures of 7 states. Berman adds, “Republicans control more than four times as many seats at the Congressional level, including two-thirds of the seventy most competitive races of 2010.” In addition, Berman explians:

…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.”
…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 strategy has been effective south-wide. “Before 2010, Democrats controlled five Statehouses (in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina) and one chamber in two (Kentucky and Virginia).,” notes Berman. “Two years later, Republicans control every Southern Statehouse except the Arkansas legislature and Kentucky House.”
Berman goes on to describe how southern conservatives are dedicated to the elimination of the section 5 “pre-clearance” provision of the Voting Rights Act, while at the same time using the Act where possible to pack African Americans and Hispanics into some districts to dilute Democratic strength in others. The legislative consequences are far-reaching.
As Berman concludes, “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.”

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