Voting Rights Act: I was wrong about racial gerrymandering

WASHINGTON — I won’t procrastinate. I’ll get the most difficult part of this column over right now: I was wrong. I was shortsighted, naïve and narrow-minded to endorse the concept of drawing Congressional districts to take racial demographics into account.

In 1982, the Voting Rights Act,  with its emphasis on Southern states, was amended to encourage the creation of awkwardly named “majority-minority” districts in order to give black voters the strength of a bloc. I believed that drawing such districts was a progressive political tactic, a benign form of affirmative action that would usher more black members into a Congress that had admitted only a handful.

The tactic worked. In 1980, there were only 18 blacks in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, there are 44, many of them elected from districts drawn to meet the mandates of the Voting Rights Act.

Unfortunately — like so many measures designed to provide redress for historic wrongs — those racially gerrymandered districts also come with a significant downside: They discourage moderation. Politicians seeking office in majority-black or –brown districts found that they could indulge in crude racial gamesmanship and left-wing histrionics.

While black-packed districts yielded some quite respectable pols — including U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House — they also launched the Congressional careers of clownish legislators such as former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, last heard cozying up to the savage dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Hemming most black voters into a few districts also had a deleterious effect on surrounding areas, now “bleached” of voters whose interests tend toward equality of opportunity. Their absence encourages pols in districts left overwhelmingly white to use the “Southern strategy” of playing to the resentments of white voters still uncomfortable with decades of social change.

As Richard Harpootlian (cq), chairman of the South Carolina Democratic party, told me: “When the only issue is race, idiots win, black and white.”

An attorney, Harpootlian has noticed the skillful, if cynical, way that Southern Republicans have turned black-packed districts to their advantage. Since the 1990s, GOP strategists have encouraged the creation of districts with huge black majorities — even though they can be counted on to elect a Democrat (usually a black one).

What do Republicans get out of the deal? With most black voters pushed into one or two districts, they have rid surrounding districts of voters who might shun a politician who claims allegiance to the Rebel flag or who insists that President Barack Obama is a foreigner. In other words, they make neighboring districts safe for ultra-conservative Republicans.

With huge gains in last fall’s elections, Republicans now control most state legislatures, providing them a distinct advantage in the re-districting battles that have followed last year’s census. And they’re using that advantage to continue packing black voters into a handful of districts.

Take Georgia, where jockeying has begun in advance of a state General Assembly session to re-draw boundaries for seats in Congress and the state legislature. Some observers expect that U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) — a black Congressman serving a constituency that’s half white — will end up with a heavily black base after black voters are redrawn out of the district won last year by U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.). That way, Scott can concentrate on solidifying his support among overwhelmingly white tea partiers.

“In political terms, it’s re-segregating the South,” Harpootlian said. “Without those majority-minority districts in the South, Republicans would not have come to the dominance they have come to.”

If black voters think they have made substantial gains simply by having more black representatives in Congress, they’re wrong. They’d have more influence if they were spread through several legislative districts, forcing more candidates to court them.

The political landscape has been transformed since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 and amended 17 years later. The election of a black president shows that American voters are willing to look beyond a candidate’s skin color. It’s time to give up racial gerrymandering, which turned out not to be quite so benign.

186 comments Add your comment

Jimmy62

June 1st, 2011
8:20 am

The unintended consequence, the invisibility of the choice not made, the opportunity cost of policies made without thought to long term consequences…. These are the reasons why I am a libertarian and scoff at most social engineering policies. Most social engineering policies will have far worse consequences than just leaving things be. Think about how well “Every American should be a homeowner” worked out!

For a more extreme example, think about China’s one child policy. Yes, it slowed population growth, but now they have an overabundance of single adult men and it’s causing havoc on the countryside and the demographics will lead to even worse problems in the future.

Zzz

June 1st, 2011
8:31 am

Like my Grandma always said, “You made your,bed now lay in it ” !

HRPufnstuf

June 1st, 2011
8:32 am

Cynthia Tucker admitting she was wrong. The world has stopped spinning.

Rickster

June 1st, 2011
8:32 am

It’s good to be able to admit when you’re wrong Cynthia. We’re proud of you. Now… keep going! You’ve been wrong about a LOT!

Aquagirl

June 1st, 2011
8:33 am

“I was wrong”…Ah, the words of an adult. You could have simply said your previous column was “not intended as a factual statement.” Perfectly acceptable in some circles.

Greg

June 1st, 2011
8:33 am

It’s big of you to admit you were wrong. I have always believed that stacking the deck was wrong for many reasons. Now, we have congressmen who are not accountable to anyone because they’re gauranteed seats for life, both black and white. The same is true when a city becomes majority anything, politicians become unaccountable.

Bill

June 1st, 2011
8:35 am

Cynthia – seeing how over 94% of black voters voted for Obama, I think your statement …

” The election of a black president shows that American voters are willing to look beyond a candidate’s skin color. ”

… is only partially true. Black voters clearly voted on racial lines. White voters were the ones that were willing to look beyond a candidates skin color. An amazing statistic when coupled with your normal and endless racial rants about whites.

jconservative

June 1st, 2011
8:37 am

No one is ever able to see the future. We only see the present and the past. And, in to many cases, we tend to ignore the past even though is is sitting there in front of our faces. So we only think about the present. We can learn a lot from history but we refuse to do so. So we repeat the same mistakes over and over.

People elect who they want to elect. People also do not work real hard at making a voting decision. They base the decision on the latest, cutest 10 second sound bite. It is quick, easy and takes little effort.

We will continue to do what we do.

Across the nation gerrymandering season is now open. Happy hunting.

jt

June 1st, 2011
8:37 am

Now CT should examine the terrible consequences of the last fifty years of the welfare state and government involvement in our medical system.
.
She will find it much worse than mere Political gerrymandering.
.
Government solutions are always worse than the initial problem that the government caused in the first place.

markie mark

June 1st, 2011
8:38 am

It all goes back to the concept of a “melting pot” and being proud of just the title “American”. No hyphens, no ethnic attachments from generations ago. However, I no longer believe anyone wants to be in the melting pot anymore. The Law of Unintended Consequences has ruled out society for longer than anyone wants to believe. Maybe this is an example of “taking our country back” that both sides will agree with. And guys, Newt was right and should have stood his ground. I dont want right-wing social engineering anymore than I want left-wing social engineering.

joe

June 1st, 2011
8:38 am

“The election of a black president shows that American voters are willing to look beyond a candidate’s skin color.”

Yes, I believe 100% in this…so, it is absolutely time to stop playing the race card every time a person says BHO is not a good president. That opinion has nothing to do with the color of his skin…it has everything to do with his quazi-socialist agenda that is not a good fit for our country.

To further illustrate my point, I would love to see Herman Cain on the next GOP ticket either as the Pres nominee, or the VP running mate.

So, all you left leaning people need to stop playing the race card on these blogs…it is so yesterday, it’s starting to smell.

Tea Partier

June 1st, 2011
8:39 am

You got dat rite!

markie mark

June 1st, 2011
8:39 am

that should be “our society”..

Logic 05

June 1st, 2011
8:40 am

“While black-packed districts yielded some quite respectable pols — including U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House..”

What world are you living in????????//

kayaker 71

June 1st, 2011
8:43 am

CT,

And then there’s Alan West, a black Congressman from FL’s 22nd district that won that predominantly white district by a 54% majority in the last election….. the first black person to win that district since 1876. I am not so sure that it is the color of the candidate in Republican circles that determines the winner as much as in districts like those of John Lewis, Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel where race plays a much more important factor. Herman Cain is also a case in point. There is very little black loyalty to this man because he is a Republican. J.C. Watts won in Oklahoma some years ago by being elected by predominantly white voters. Most journalists ie, Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Shelby Steele, and others are shunned by the black community because of being conservative but read widely by conservative voters all over the US, both black and white. To gain black loyalty and support, a black candidate must be a Democrat…. it makes little difference what district he belongs to. Good case in point…. Hank Johnson and McKinney. Two of the most inept people in Congress yet loyal to the core by their constituents. Marian Berry, Cold Cash Jefferson…. the list goes on.

Lenny

June 1st, 2011
8:44 am

Thank you Ms. Tucker for a very thought provoking piece. I’ve hated the gerrymandering but never thought of it from this perspective. You’re right on this I think.

Stephen

June 1st, 2011
8:46 am

As a south Georgia, conservative man, I am usually on the opposite side of the fence and miles away from Ms. Tucker’s political stances. However in this case, I feel she’s right on target. Even though gerrymandering is an ingrained part of our political system, it is wrong. Redistricting needs to be a non-partisan event so that the lines are drawn fairly all across the political spectrum. I believe congressmen such as Sanford Bishop and John Lewis would continue to serve without skewed distict line based on their past service to their constituents. Freshmen congressmen such as Austin Scott should continue to forge his constituency based on the fair distribution of numbers, not an influx of likeminded voters gerrymandered in. (however the 8th District needs to be redrawn just based in its sheer absurdity of size and shape-Colquitt and Newton Coounties in the same district???? Come on!!!) Great observations today Ms. Tucker!

carlosgvv

June 1st, 2011
8:55 am

Jimmy 62

Well said.

Mark Armentrout

June 1st, 2011
8:56 am

Gerrymander districts are a blight on society. People need to be represented by someone who represents their common interests which includes their economic and social interests–not just their political preference. Do away with gerrymandering and make a district adher as close as possible to the current county or city boundaries. Then a politician has to appeal to a wider base.

Last Man Laying Down

June 1st, 2011
8:57 am

What’s the bigger problem; gerrymandering districts or the horrible, third world-like environment in inner cities? Ms. Tucker needs to apologize for her belief that liberal social programs, including affirmative acion, were good things. Certainly these racialists programs resulted in terrible consequences for generations of African-Americans.

John Daly

June 1st, 2011
8:57 am

Good editorial. And you’re right, both sides use it to their advantage and our detriment.

Rusty

June 1st, 2011
8:59 am

Cynthia – you’re an idiot.

Olderandwiser49

June 1st, 2011
9:00 am

Cynthia, when I read the first line of your column, I choked on my coffee! CT admits she was wrong? Has the world stopped spinning on its axis?
Whew! Looks like we can rest easy. I just read the rest of your story, and realized all is right with the world. It took you a little while to draw that racist card, but you finally got to it, and played it for all it was worth. The only wrong you have ever done is call yourself a journalist. “Propagandist” seems a better fit. And speaking of Cynthia McKinney, isn’t she looking for a speechwriter?

Concerned

June 1st, 2011
9:01 am

WOW….”Unfortunately — like so many measures designed to provide redress for historic wrongs — those racially gerrymandered districts also come with a significant downside: They discourage moderation. Politicians seeking office in majority-black or –brown districts found that they could indulge in crude racial gamesmanship and left-wing histrionics.”

OK Whats the catch??

Peadawg

June 1st, 2011
9:01 am

“I was wrong. I was shortsighted, naïve and narrow-minded” – Um…DUH! We’ve been telling you that for years. Glad to know you’re finally realizing it. Better late than never I guess…..

dan the nerd

June 1st, 2011
9:01 am

Well said!

And to the idiot that pointed out that 94% of blacks voted for Obama: Did you get that statistic from the Dept of Made Up Numbers or did you just pull it out of ye own arse? 94% of blacks didn’t even vote.

Use the numbers correctly or don’t use them at all.

Chris

June 1st, 2011
9:02 am

Funny how your support of gerymandered districts was so strong when it furthered your causes. Once there’s a threat that your gov manipulations won’t go your way 100% of the time…Now you want to scrap it. I suppsoe if Obama maintains his Presidency and the Dems take back control, you will again be “for” it.

saywhat?

June 1st, 2011
9:04 am

Bill got it *almost* right. The fact that 94% black voters voted for Obama hardly means they are all racist, given the fact that 84% voted for Clinton, 88% voted for Kerry, and 90% voted for Gore. Given how Bush was the worst president ever,and McCain promised more of the same, it instead shows how unracist black voters were that they even gave McCain 6% of their vote.

Mark

June 1st, 2011
9:04 am

It appears that Ms Tucker is only admitting she is wrong now because her current interests are better served by taking a different position on the issue…. Although I do agree with her that the previous system of racial gerrymandering was indeed wrong and only served to create more divisions between blacks and whites. Now that we have seen a day when America will elect a black president, I hope to one day soon see a day when a majority black voting district will in turn elect a white candidate.

Derwood

June 1st, 2011
9:05 am

only difference between McKinney and John Lewis is (1) sex and (2) spelling of last night. Lewis is a leech just as is McKinney.

homeslice

June 1st, 2011
9:06 am

Aquagirl,

I love you.

Mary Elizabeth

June 1st, 2011
9:09 am

“That way, Scott can concentrate on solidifying his support among overwhelmingly white tea partiers.”
——————————-

Rep. Austin Scott may be in for a rude awakening when the “white tea partiers,” who are his south Georgia base, vote the Democratic ticket in 2012 because they realize that voting the Republican ticket will ensure the dismantling of Medicare, as we know it (and even, perhaps Social Security, as we know it.)

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:09 am

Cynthia:With huge gains in last fall’s elections, Republicans now control most state legislatures, providing them a distinct advantage in the re-districting battles that have followed last year’s census. And they’re using that advantage to continue packing black voters into a handful of districts.

Why anyone couldn’t see this as the inevitable conclusion of a problem is beyond me.

bill: … is only partially true. Black voters clearly voted on racial lines. White voters were the ones that were willing to look beyond a candidates skin color

bill, quick question, do you know ALL the black voters in america and asked them PERSONALLY how they voted? If every black voter voted for Obama because he was black, as you suggested, then what happened with all of your black republicans? Did they NOT see the “Obama is Kenyan” memo?

kayaker: Herman Cain is also a case in point. There is very little black loyalty to this man because he is a Republican. J

but then that negates bill’s theory that black people will vote ONLY for other blacks!!!! Oh my!! What will bill do now? You’ve ruined it for everybody!!!!

Obozonomics

June 1st, 2011
9:10 am

Can someone please tell me why the politicians waste time and money”re-drawing” voting lines? We have county lines use them….

Atlanta 1

June 1st, 2011
9:11 am

Interesting take. Before the Republicans dominated Southern States – Democrats did. And they did the exact same thing; changing districts to make it almost impossible for Republicans to win.

Does race come into play with some of the decisions being made. In some cases, I’m sure it does. But it is less these days about race Ms. McKinney and more about party lines. African Americans are going to vote Democrat; so the Republicans are better positioned to win states.

This is nothing knew. Which ever party dominates the state, controls how the voting lines are drawn up. This happens in ‘blue states’ as well.

So while I’m confident that there is some truth in the writer’s thoughts; I do not believe that Republicans wake up every day thinking of how they can restrict ‘black representation’. But they do plan how their party can benefit from the lines being drawn. Just like in blue states, they look to ‘weight’ districts to restrict Republicans..

One other thought. I travel all over this country and to some degree, aground the world. The South (which can always improve on race relations) is no worst than any other part of this country. Will not bore you with the countless examples that I have personally encountered (from both whites and blacks) in my travels – but believe me, we have come leaps and bounds, where others have hardly moved.

alan

June 1st, 2011
9:13 am

You got what you asked for ms. Tucker.
Now live with it!

Paddy O

June 1st, 2011
9:14 am

revisionist knee jerk liberalism. However, the premise is what is erroneous: Black will only get good representation if they are represented by a fellow black. However, that tells the majority white guy he will also only get good representation from a fellow white guy. Also, I would say 75% of white foks are not racist and don’t give a rats butt about the skin color of the guy elected to Congress. What % of black voter is racist?

Richard

June 1st, 2011
9:14 am

I think the worst aspect of the racial gerrymandering was the fact that it destroyed any real effort by blacks and whites in the South to work together to solve problems and to find candidates who were truly “unprejudiced” in their views. There was no need for that in these new districts and a great tragedy for the South.

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:16 am

LMLD: Certainly these racialists programs resulted in terrible consequences for generations of African-Americans.

racialists? huh?

Mark: I hope to one day soon see a day when a majority black voting district will in turn elect a white candidate.

Ever hear of Clinton? How about Kerry? Do those names ring a bell……… :roll:

Paddy O

June 1st, 2011
9:16 am

GA is not very racist. Black & white kids play with each other. Some people are repulsed by others behavior – that is not racist, does not matter the color of the other guy’s skin – but, as MLK stated, it is the content of the other person’s character. Sadly, many Americans have thrown out their convictions to make $$$.

Eubieful O'Sheet

June 1st, 2011
9:16 am

We need those black members of Congress in Washington for comic relief.

Think about Cynthia McKinney, Maxine Waters, William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, Hank Johnson, Major Major, Alcee Hastings, etc. The list is near endless.

The abysmal ignorance, preening arrogance, and incomparable incompetence routinely displayed can’t help but bring a smile or chuckle.

Strange that Cynthia is suddenly against gerrymandering districts now that Republicans are in charge. She sure didn’t have a problem with it ten years ago when the Democrats did it.

In fact, they did it with such blatant prejudice and arrogance that judges had to redraw the districts.
Which gave us a Republican majority legislature. (Democrats “hoisted on their own petard”.)

You DEE-manded it. You got it. Now live with it. Voluntary irrelevance.

Obozonomics

June 1st, 2011
9:17 am

DebbieDoRight, you should change your name to DoWrong, because you just IGNORE facts, typical liberal, don’t let the FACTS get in the way of your logic. Oh sorry I did not mean to suggest that liberals even know what logic is…

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:17 am

What % of black voter is racist?

that would be 0%.

PS: Please, pleae, PLEASEEEEE look up the meaning of the word “racists” before posting such drivel again. It may help your posts……….

Kenny D

June 1st, 2011
9:18 am

You say thay you were wrong, but your logic is wrong as well…
Since you always want to break issues down to RACE and using your logic that blacks only vote for blacks and whites only for whites; then the fact is that blacks are a minority which would be out voted in most geographical based districts.
Unlike you I look to the values that each candidate supports and vote for the one that best matches my own regardless of their skin color.
You need to look within yourself and determine if you really are a racist, in the meantime we will pray for you to see the light, not the skin tone

Aquagirl

June 1st, 2011
9:18 am

homeslice, I love you too. Will you marry me?*

*not intended as a factual statement

Paddy O

June 1st, 2011
9:19 am

also, prior to the removal by Gov Barnes of the confederate battle flags (done to appease his fellow black democrats), the GOP at least in GA had little to not power. Once Barnes pissed all over the really yellow dog democrats, they decided: FU. Democrats will not come back to power in GA as currently contrived. You might if you created the Dixie Democrats, but the Republs would have to really screw up to give that opposition party legs to walk on.

A Lumpkin Resident

June 1st, 2011
9:19 am

Almost any affirmative action starts with the best of intentions and (briefly) does good. Sooner or later, though, political operatives and motives rather than good intentions, and we see all the negative unintended consequences. What was a “helping hand up”, is now a oppressive ceiling that prevents further advancement in race relationships.

Larry

June 1st, 2011
9:20 am

Progress is not about 94% of all blacks electing another black, as it took many more white total voters than black to elect Obama; indeed, progress is the day that at least 50% of all blacks elect the best possibile candidate even if he or she is………….white!

jms

June 1st, 2011
9:21 am

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”

Chief Justice Roberts

Common Sense

June 1st, 2011
9:23 am

Like every good liberal, CT only recognizes that changing the rules to pick the winners and losers in a system only “appears” to work, and that for a very short time.

Looking forward to her change of heart on housing bail outs, extended long term unemployment and other programs of mass destruction once she also realizes how these programs have caused more harm than they have helped.