Phase Two of the redistricting trial is underway, and if it sounds an awful lot like Phase One to you, you would be right.
Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t discriminate against minorities by drawing election maps in 2011 that voting-rights activists say make it harder for Hispanics and blacks to elect their candidates, a lawyer for the state argued Monday as the fight over redistricting continues.
“The plaintiffs must prove the state did more than favor Republicans and harm Democrats who happen to be minorities,” Assistant Texas Attorney General Angela Colmenero said in opening statements at a federal trial in San Antonio taking place before a three-judge panel.
She said that the evidence will show the state did not discriminate in redrawing the congressional maps. The state contends that the maps were designed to improve re-election chances for Republican incumbents and weaken Democratic opponents, not dilute minority voting strength.
Colmenero added that Texas’ explosive minority population growth, and the greatest jumps in the numbers of voting-age Latinos, “occurred in areas that were already Hispanic.”
The activist groups waived their right to give an opening statement.
But in court papers, they and the Justice Department argue that GOP lawmakers intentionally drew congressional districts in 2011 to curb the political power of the state’s booming Hispanic population.
Like I said, we’ve heard this before. The claim that it’s all just partisan politics and has nothing to do with race – nothing actionable, anyway – has been the foundation of the state’s case since the maps were first presented in 2011. Michael Li summed it up at one point as “they would be fine with non-Anglo people if they would just vote Republican”, and it’s easy to see why. Both the San Antonio court and the DC court had previously found reason to believe that the 2011 maps were intentionally discriminatory regardless, but I suppose as with the same sex marriage appellate brief, if a bad argument is all you’ve got, you’re going to keep making it. I also think the Texas Election Law Blog is right to suggest that what Abbott really has in mind is another shot at gutting the Voting Rights Act once the appeals make it to SCOTUS, so one can at least say there’s a method to the madness.
In the meantime, I want to call your attention to this New Republic story about the state of partisanship and race in Alabama.
Mike Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House, is not a beloved politician. His Republican colleagues call him “abrasive” and “divisive”; Democrats use other words. From his seat at the front of the House chamber, Hubbard presides in an aggressive fashion. He speaks in a rapid-fire auctioneer’s patter, barreling over anyone who questions his authority, and slams down his giant speaker’s gavel with alarming force. With his slicked-back hair and thin smile, he casts an almost predatory air. Hubbard, in other words, is no deal maker. And as the man who almost single-handedly won Republicans control of the legislature in 2010, he is the most powerful politician in the state.
Hubbard, who grew up in Georgia, moved to Alabama as a young man in the mid-’80s to work in the Auburn University athletic department; he later made a small fortune when he helped the school launch its own sports broadcasting network. In 1998, Hubbard won a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives, which had been controlled by Democrats since 1874. But unlike so many of his Republican colleagues, Hubbard did not accept Democratic dominance as a fact of life. Instead, he was determined to end it.
It was the Democrats themselves who helped Hubbard realize his goal. During the 2001 legislative redistricting process, Joe Reed and other prominent black leaders were eager to further protect black incumbents. They successfully pushed to fill the House’s 27 majority-minority and the Senate’s eight majority-minority districts with even more black voters. In the process, they endangered the seats of white Democrats, who increasingly relied on African Americans to make up for the growing number of whites defecting to the GOP. James Blacksher, a civil rights attorney who advised Democrats on redistricting, is still stunned by the shortsightedness of this plan. It wasn’t so much a gerrymander, he told me, as a “dummymander.”
In 2002 and 2006, Republicans benefited from this tactical mistake, picking off white Democrats here and there. But in 2010, Hubbard, who had recently become the state Republican Party chairman, proposed the most audacious electoral plan in the history of the Alabama GOP. Rather than take out white Democrats piecemeal, he decided to eliminate them in one brutal election. He put together an 88-page playbook, innocuously titled GOP Alabama State Victory Plan 2010, and pushed the plan to conservative donors not just in the state, but all over the country. Alabama’s campaign-finance laws prohibited corporations from giving more than $500, and some Alabamans were reluctant to contribute to Republicans in case the GOP’s takeover plans didn’t come to fruition. But moneyed conservatives beyond Birmingham and Montgomery didn’t share those concerns and saw a chance to flip the statehouse. Hubbard and his finance chairman, State Senator Del Marsh, ultimately reaped more than $1 million in out-of-state contributions. And in one instance, Hubbard appears to have used a national group, the Republican State Leadership Council (RSLC), to effectively launder contributions to Alabama Republicans from politically toxic gambling interests—a scheme, Politico’s Alexander Burns recently reported, that the RSLC’s lawyers concluded could result in “possible criminal penalties” if it was ever discovered.
Hubbard couldn’t have chosen a better time to attempt a takeover. The election of Obama, and white Alabamans’ visceral distaste for the president (88 percent voted against him in 2008), created a massive shift in the state’s politics. For many years, white voters had often split their tickets, voting Republican in federal and gubernatorial contests but sticking with the Democrats in legislative campaigns. Hubbard realized that, by nationalizing Alabama’s 2010 state races and putting Obama on center stage, he could bring that to an end. Hubbard himself had always been careful never to speak in explicitly racial terms. (Not all of his Republican colleagues were so circumspect. In 2010, a state senator named Scott Beason was caught on a wiretap referring to black Alabamans as “aborigines.”) Now, he didn’t need to explicitly invoke race—he only needed to mention Obama. As the state GOP put it in one ad, “After 136 years, the Democrats have brought us Obama, Pelosi, government health care, liberal policies, higher taxes, and wasteful spending.”
Suddenly, even entrenched white Democrats like Lowell Barron, who’d been in the Senate for 28 years, found themselves in trouble. “People weren’t voting against me in 2010, they were voting against that black man in the White House,” says Barron. “They were pretty specific about it, only they didn’t refer to him as a black man.” Some Republicans concede as much. “Anybody who denies that Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Alabama didn’t help Republicans come to power is just not being truthful about it,” Republican State Senator Cam Ward told me.
The transformation of Alabama politics was nearly instantaneous. Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had 60 Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four. The casualties included Barron, who lost to a first-time Republican candidate.
All of this was enough to give the GOP supermajorities in both chambers. Hubbard assumed his role as speaker of the House, and Marsh was elected Senate president pro tem. Having wrested control of the statehouse, now they could begin to change the state.
Link via Ed Kilgore, who adds his own thoughts. Let’s see, we’ve got extreme partisan redistricting, targeting of Anglo Democrats, Republican supermajorities post 2010, an influx of possibly illegal outside money affecting the outcome of elections – any of this sound familiar? And with those supermajorities, black legislators – now a minority in more ways than one – have been marginalized in the legislative process, which is what will happen to Democratic Senators here if Dan Patrick gets sworn in as Lt. Governor next year. Let’s hope we don’t look back on this in a few years and see that it was our future as well.