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On redistricting and race

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    What happened in Alabama has also taken place here in Harris Co. There used to be Anglo Democrats among our officeholders, but now are few. Some get beat in primaries by minority Democrats (Chris Bell by Al Green, Bailey by Walle, Hackney by Turner). Others lose in the general election, like Cohen to Sarah Davis.

    The real problem is the interpretation of the Voting Rights Act by minority advocacy groups like MALDEF, NAACP, ACLU, GI Forum, Lawyers Comm on Civil Rights and by the Department of Justice in their support. And some GOP lawyers have colluded in this, strategically. These minority advocates, like Joe Reed in Alabama, have fought for districts which are 65% minority, on the theory that minority voter registration, election turnout, candidate funding, and mobilization might lag Anglos. (In fact in urban areas black turnout often exceeds Anglo these days.) So they end up with districts which they win easily in November with figures like 75% to 80%, but all the adjacent districts flip to the GOP.

    There are instances where districts with smaller than 65% black or Hispanic percentages fail to elect the candidate preferred by black or Hispanic voters, for example Zeph Capo dislodging Yolanda Navarro Flores, or Dave Wilson pipping Bruce Austin, but they usually involve extreme facts, poor campaigns, low information contests. And I am unsure if Flores really was preferred by Hispanics in her district, or if Austin was really strongly supported by blacks in his district. I have not analyzed precinct level data for either contest.

    If the districts were more racially balanced, you might get more competitive elections in November, and politicians on both sides of the political and racial divides showing greater interest in the voters who make up the rest of their district.

  2. Greg Wythe says:

    Minor clarification: Turner didn’t beat Hackney. HD139 was an open seat in 1988.

    In many cases, as Anglo support for Dems declined over the years, many of the old districts held by Anglo Dems were increasingly reliant on votes from fractured minority voters. I’m pretty sure Ron Wilson made this point about the old CD25 for 14 years prior to Al Green’s election to Congress and Eddie Bernice Johnson was making a similar point about south Dallas while Martin Frost was being sent to Congress.

  3. Manuel Barrera says:

    Seems there are not enough White Democrats in Harris County. Don’t forget Gene Green, Laster, Eastman, and Capo. Right now there are four White Democrats sitting in seats that were drawn for Latinos. It would not be a problem if they represented the districts in the same manner that Gene Green has done. Unfortunately that has not been the case and that will come back to bite the Democratic Party.

    We can’t forget that Lane Lewis, Democratic Chair, locked the doors to the Dreamers and refused to speak to them.

    One of the darlings of the White Democrats is Adrian Garcia who pushed for safe communities and deports more Latinos than Sheriff Arpiao.

    The number of Latinos that vote increase every year don’t be surprise when they turn against the Democratic Party, the only thing keeping some of them there is that the Republican Party keeps pushing hate of Latinos but there are exceptions like Norm Adams and others.

  4. Greg Wythe says:

    I’m not sure that it does anything to confuse the impact of redistricting with that of voter support. My earlier point was that the slippage in support from Anglo voters has been fairly gradual. By several anecdotal statewide estimates, that means we went from 30%-or-so in the 80s and 90s to 20-25% today. The reason you only see so few Anglo Dems in elective office, I would argue, has more to do with packing minority voters into increasingly self-contained districts.

    The districts represented by Capo, Eastman, and Laster vary greatly in terms of potential Hispanic voting strength, with COH District J in particular being nowhere near close to being “drawn for Latinos.”

    COH-J (Laster) – 25% H-CVAP; 17% SSRV – not drawn to elect a Latino
    HCC-1 (Capo) – 54% H-VAP – below majority in H-CVAP and SSRV – competitive, but election year increases chances for Anglo candidates.
    HISD-1 (Eastman) – 59% H-CVAP – below majority in H-CVAP and SSRV – the most competitive of the three.

    Also interesting is that you identify three districts that are (a) non-partisan, and (b) elected in odd-numbered years. The latter of those conditions dampens support for Latino candidates greatly. Had those officials needed to face more Hispanic voters in an even-numbered year, maybe you’d find them as responsive as Gene Green.

    But then again, if we did hold City of Houston elections in even-numbered years, for instance, you’d be far more likely to see a moderate-to-progressive Dem candidate elected in District A and F.

  5. Manuel Barrera says:

    District J was called a Latino District, could a more winnable district for Latinos been drawn? Yes, but if memory serves me correct Wythe one of those folks speaking in favor of the adopted map.

    What is occurring but not noticeable is that Latinos are voting more, slowly but surely. The problem is that all data is obtained from low income neighborhoods. Latinos are scattered all over the place. There are over 200,000 registered Latinos in Harris County the vast majority within the City limits.

    The problem is that Whites whether Democrats or Republicans will not support a Latino over a White candidate in non partisan races, that is the rule but there are always exception.

    If one looks at the votes for at large Morales v Kubosh, White liberal areas supported the white conservative by small margins but almost all precincts. Same thing happened with Capo v Flores, same with Eastman v Latina (don’t recall last name).

    With Republicans at least I know they particularly don’t care for Latinos, the Democrats, in Harris county, claim they do but then tend to not support the Latino candidates.

    In 2002 Sanchez barely carried the white liberal areas against Perry.

    There are exception as mentioned before Adrian Garcia is one of them, one could add Sylvia Garcia, and Jessica Farrar who won with mostly the white vote in her first and second win.

    What the white liberals have to realize that the needs of the Latino community are not the same as for the white liberal community. Some compromise will be necessary otherwise the Democratic boat will not raise to the top in Harris county and probably the state.

    I would not be surprised to see Democrats lose some judge positions this year.

    I for one have only one person that I intend to vote for and that is the one running against Dan Patrick.

  6. Greg Wythe says:

    The only references to District J as a Latino District that I’m aware of are the Houston Chronicle editorial board and headline writers, Yolanda Black Navarro, and a certain other Latino blogger who shall remain nameless. I not only spoke against the map, but presented an alternate map with a northside opportunity district.

    I also participated in the meetings to create some agreement on a revision of the Mayor’s initial proposal and made it clear to all involved there that District J would not be the opportunity they were hoping it would be. All involved knew that District J would not produce a viable opportunity for Latino candidates, although it isn’t completely out of the question for a Latino Republican candidate if the voters in Sharpstown are angry enough at whoever the mayor is.

    That aside, I agree with you that there are significant differences among white liberals and Dem-leaning Latinos. The larger reality is that the Democratic Party has historically been a coalition party. So the challenges posed by those differences aren’t new. There are differences among white liberals and African-American voters. There are differences between young liberals and old moderates (even those of us who refuse to be thought of as “old”). None of that has changed drastically over time.

  7. Manuel Barrera says:

    Well I apologize as I thought you had supported the map as drawn.

    You are correct about a Republican Latino in District J possibly being able to win.

    The differences between where white liberals, Latinos, want the Democratic party have grown. For many Latinos immigration is an issue and that one issue seems to drive many of them, I know it does me.

    I do not understand why someone like Adrian Garcia was leading the charge for Safe Communities. I fail to understand why Lane Lewis locked the doors and refused to speak to the Dreamers. There are are way too many young Americans that reach 18 every years whose parents are at risk of being deported.

    I certainly don’t understand why the chief clerk for JP Risner, could make a statement that she was going out “wetback” hunting and the Democratic party fails to say anything to her.

    Makes one wonder where the Democratic Party in Harris county is when it concerns immigration issues and Latinos.

    There are two groups that are growing in population in Harris county, Latinos and Asians.

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