I love the redistricting process. Sure, it can be corrupt, unseemly, and full of sharp elbows. But it also brings something we don’t get enough of in politics: clarity.
Specifically, it clarifies the exact relationship between Latinos and the Democratic Party.
For the rest of the decade, America’s largest minority can go around telling itself that Democrats have its best interests at heart. And where would they get that idea? It’s partly from tradition; the “Viva Kennedy” clubs that popped up during the 1960 campaign represented the first time that a presidential campaign made a direct effort to reach out to Latino voters. And it’s partly because Democrats still make a habit of promising Latino voters the moon and stars to get their votes, even if they rarely get around to delivering.
But during redistricting, it becomes clear that Democrats only care about their own interests.
It’s a role reversal. Nine times out of ten, it’s Republicans who misbehave, play politics, and selfishly put their interests ahead of the interests of Latinos. That’s how it is with immigration, English-only laws, bilingual education, affirmative action, and other ethnic and cultural hot-button issues.
Welcome to the tenth time — where Democrats misbehave, play politics, and selfishly put their interests ahead of the interests of Latinos. That’s how it is with that once-in-a-decade ritual known as congressional redistricting.
Every ten years, we conduct a Census where we get a rough — sometimes very rough — count of how many people live in the United States and who lives where. Once we have that information, we can reapportion the seats in the House of Representatives so that money and representation goes where it is needed.
The 2010 Census figures are now starting to roll in. They show us that there are approximately 308.7 million people in the United States — and that a big chunk of them live in Texas. The population of the Lone Star State is growing faster than that of any other state. This means that Texas will get more House seats than any other state: four.
The other winners in the census lottery include Florida, which picked up two new seats in Congress. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Utah, South Carolina, and Washington all picked up one extra seat. (It is a bleaker story in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Massachusetts, which lost seats.) In Texas, the job of carving out those four new districts will fall to the members of the state legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. Naturally, they’re going to want to carve out those districts in a way that is advantageous to their party, just as Democrats are going to want the same.
Here’s where it gets tricky. There is no question that much of the growth in the Texas population over the last ten years is due to the growth of the Hispanic population in the state. In fact, demographers say that more than half of the growth in Texas is due to Hispanics. That means that Hispanics are likely to claim that one, and possibly two, of the new seats should be majority-Hispanic — increasing the chances of electing one or two Hispanic representatives.
Now, here’s a pop quiz. Which party do you suppose is more likely to go along with the demand for Hispanic districts?
Democrats? Incorrect. The best scenario for Democrats in a state like Texas is to sprinkle the Hispanic population across several districts — say 30 to 40 percent Hispanic in each district. Because Hispanics tend to be dependable voters for Democrats, that would ensure the election of Democrats — and probably white Democrats — in multiple districts.
Republicans? Correct. The best scenario for the GOP is to concentrate Latinos into one or two majority-Latino districts that are as much as 70 percent Latino. That all but ensures that Latino Democrats will represent those districts. And packing Latino Democrats into one district leaves the handful of districts that surround that district mostly white and Republican.
Under that scenario, Latinos get what they want (majority-Latino districts where they can elect their own) and Republicans get what they want (more overall districts that stay in the “red” column). Those are strange bedfellows.
So who loses? Answer: White Democrats. So they’ll fight — first in the legislature, and eventually in court. That’s just what they did in 1990 and 2000, when this same dynamic played out. And in doing so, they’ll go head-to-head with the same Latino community that they claim to champion.
The result: clarity.