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

Lawrence

June 1st, 2011
9:23 am

CT…You can’t have it both ways as I am sure you want to. The “black” districts are what you wanted and what you got. Now you want both.

c tuck daffy duck

June 1st, 2011
9:25 am

Cynthia
You were wrong. You are a democrat. Georgia had been controlled entirely by democrats since reconstruction. Democrats wrote the civil rights era laws that gives the US justice dept veto power over Georgia’s redistricting. Democrat president may now exercise discretion in that role.
You’re blaming Republicans?!
What’s wrong with you. You were wrong at the beginning in your column and you’re still wrong at the conclusion.

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:25 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.

not intended to be a factual statement…….

Intown

June 1st, 2011
9:28 am

the perhaps unintended consequences of the voting rights act were long ago documented by Merle Black in the Political Science dept at Emory and his twin brother Earle. It ushered out the ability of white moderates/Dems to ever win in the South and ushered in the ability of only more conservative white pols and any black pol to win. What is unique about this column however, is that a leading black voice, Cynthia Tucker, is utilizing these facts to argue for the tearing down of district lines based upon minority racial characteristics. Wonder if it will catch on.

Get It Right

June 1st, 2011
9:31 am

CT was for racially drawn districts before she was against it. What changed her mind was not that choosing a representative based on race is wrong, the issue for CT is that the Republicans have found a way to use it to their advantage. So, CT resorts to the profiling and name calling that the “progressive” left uses when they have no argument based in fact. “Southern Strategy”. Rebel Flag, Tea Party, Obama is a foreigner, ultra-Conservative, etc. No facts and no logic, just scary phrases and accusations. We should vote for the person, not for the party and certainly not for the skin color. Personally, holding someone up as the first black anything sounds like an insult to the African-American community. Makes it sound like before “this” happened, no black had the ability to be whatever “this” is. The ability and opportunity is there, every day.

Pablo

June 1st, 2011
9:33 am

Cynthia:

You were doing very well in your column until the sixth paragraph. You should have stopped when you were ahead.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

June 1st, 2011
9:35 am

Good morning all. My compliments to Ms. Tucker, for your new insight (albeit an insight long understood by conservatives such as Tom Sowell.) Will you now support repeal of the Voting Rights Act?

Not Blind

June 1st, 2011
9:37 am

CT, so you are saying that black people can only be properly represented by electing black politicians ? That’s obviously the way most black voters feel.

Joe

June 1st, 2011
9:38 am

The real underlying problem is that blacks don’t see beyond race. They vote specifically for the candidate who’s black or has a “d” by their name. They have been indoctrinated into thinking that dems will help them while all Republicans are evil…That should be the issue you concentrate on but of course being the racer you are it won’t be talked about in any of your tripe….

Jan

June 1st, 2011
9:39 am

kayaker 71 is exactly right. And CT is only against this one form of social engineering because it appears “the other side” has taken advantage of it better than “her side”. Quote: 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. Unquote. So…. only the black voters interests tend toward equality of opportunity? A wolf in sheep’s clothing is CT. Again blaming white Republicans for her problems.

HDB

June 1st, 2011
9:42 am

Get It Right
June 1st, 2011
9:31 am
“Personally, holding someone up as the first black anything sounds like an insult to the African-American community. Makes it sound like before “this” happened, no black had the ability to be whatever “this” is. The ability and opportunity is there, every day.”

The ability was ALWAYS there in the black community; only from 1964 – present and via legislation has the OPPORTUNITY been granted. For many, however, the opportunity continues to be marginalized in favor of those for whom opportunity is more frequent.

Being the “first” only means that that person was granted the opportunity…and succeeded! Look at it as being the hammer that broke the glass ceiling!!

dumb as a rock

June 1st, 2011
9:44 am

It must be a real PIA to wake up, look in the mirror and realize you are in idiot.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the stupidest of them all?”
“Why, of course, it is you, Cynthia.”

Not Blind

June 1st, 2011
9:45 am

Get It Right. Great post ! How many articles have been written railing against somebody for flip flopping ? Now here is one of those writers doing the flip flop.

Good Grief

June 1st, 2011
9:45 am

CT, thanks for admitting that you were wrong, although I see that you did have to get in a nice shot against Republicans with your line about allegiance to the rebel flag and Obama being a foreigner. I’m no Republican, but to quote the cliche, many of my friends are republicans. None of them swear allegiance to the Confederate flag and none of them think Obama is not a US Citizen. And these are part of the “ultra-conservative” crowd you called out.

That said, I’m on-board with abolishing gerrymandering, but I think it should be across the board. Districts should be drawn to be as contiguous as possible, and as compact as possible. I’m shudder every time I see the “Jaws of Life” 4th congressional district in Illinois.

Jan

June 1st, 2011
9:45 am

Get It Right also got it right. Again, CT: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

BlahBlahBlah

June 1st, 2011
9:48 am

Well-intended government programs, rules and regulations often have horrible unintended consequences. Good luck fixing any of them.

John

June 1st, 2011
9:48 am

CT – You initially had me until you stooped to your old and tired attack on the GOP. Why are liberals such as yourself so hateful? I thought libs were open minded, fair, genteel and above mud-slinging?

Here’s my take. I’m a southerner who grew up in a integrated society and attended public schools. There’s not a racist bone in my body, yet even me at times becomes frustrated if not resentful at the unfairness of AA and over the antics of people like Al Sharpton and Jessee Jackson whose M.O. is to separate and play to stereotypes.When does it all end? We’ve been at this now for nearly 50 years. How can you look me in the eye and demand everyone be colorblind when the first thing out of your mouth is all about race?

HDB

June 1st, 2011
9:49 am

Not Blind
June 1st, 2011
9:37 am
Joe
June 1st, 2011
9:38 am

Lest you forget that prior to 1964, black representation in governmental affairs was extremely limited….although black people dealt with TAXATION!! In order to have the black voice heard, black people elected one of their own (logical, isn’t it!). Now, the paradigm has shifted…but the political spectrum hasn’t! When the Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party and migrated to the GOP, they took a racist tint to conservatism that still permeates today! For many black people. that tint is still evident! THAT’S why the preponderance of black people vote Democratic! What needs to shift is the racist element of conservatism…and only Republicans can adequately address that!!

Uncle Jed

June 1st, 2011
9:50 am

Most racists are non-caucasian, period.

Sam

June 1st, 2011
9:51 am

Wow, for the first time, I agree with 100% of Ms. Tucker’s article.

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:51 am

The real underlying problem is that blacks don’t see beyond race. They vote specifically for the candidate who’s black or has a “d” by their name.

Not intended to be a factual statement……….

DebbieDoRight

June 1st, 2011
9:53 am

yet even me at times becomes frustrated if not resentful at the unfairness of AA and over the antics of people like Al Sharpton and Jessee Jackson whose M.O

Do you also feel that way about Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck et al?

Dj

June 1st, 2011
9:54 am

Hahahaha. Your complaint about your own liberal policies.

avenger

June 1st, 2011
9:55 am

Kayaker. “There is very little black loyalty to this man because he is a Republican.” Duh! For a guy who suppose to be astute of politics, you don’t seem to know the basic rule of voters. All voters (black,white, green, purple, or what ever) support the politician that says what they want to hear.

Contractor

June 1st, 2011
10:00 am

HDB,

Go spread your nonsense elsewhere. Each and every time you post it has to deal with some sort of racist nonsense. You claim people are still reminiscent on the past and blacks still hold hard feelings and vote on those feelings, well that’s making you and them uninformed voters, just voting on color and not issues. You claim you want to get passed color, but it is impossible when you and others continue to hold hard feelings on the PAST and continue to raise a new generation with the hate and hard feelings towards the whites and others. So once again, save your tired racism and blacks being held down speech for your own living room, cause we are all quiet frankly sick and tired of hearing it every single time you post.

avenger

June 1st, 2011
10:00 am

uncle. It is obvious that you are ignorant of the saying -”to keep everyone from knowing that you are an ignoramus, it wise to keep your pie hole shut”

Powder Springs Playa

June 1st, 2011
10:04 am

Here is an excerpt from a article on how minorities voted in 2008. 95% of Blacks did vote for Obama.

According to the exit polls in last year’s presidential election, the candidate preference of non-white voters was distinctly different from that of white voters. Nearly all (95%) black voters cast their ballot for Democrat Barack Obama. Among Latino voters, 67% voted for Obama while 31% voted for Republican John McCain. Among Asian voters, 62% supported Obama and 35% voted for McCain. In contrast, white voters supported McCain (55%) over Obama (43%).

HDB

June 1st, 2011
10:05 am

kayaker 71
June 1st, 2011
8:43 am
“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. ”

The reason why there is no “loyalty” in the black community to Herman Cain is explainable:

1) He isn’t KNOWN
2) Cain tends to marginalize the same programs that allowed him to progress….thereby being seen as a hypocrite
3) Cain tends to speak in GOP talking points rather than attempting to be honest….for many, it’s quite evident!!

“To gain black loyalty and support, a black candidate must be a Democrat….”

Have you not noted the lack black representation in the GOP?? Why doesn’t the GOP come into the inner cities and campaign? Why hasn’t the GOP denounced the racist elements it has in the party? Why hasn’t the GOP listened to people like Colin Powell…rather than to call him a RINO?? The GOP needs to appear to RECOGNIZE that black people are CONSTITUENTS…and WELCOME them into the party, rather than to marginalize……THAT’S the first step!!

Obozonomics

June 1st, 2011
10:05 am

HDB, why are you such a racist, and why do you hate Martin Luther King, he was a registered REPUBLICAN..

a reader

June 1st, 2011
10:08 am

pardon my bluntness – but duh…
anyway – lesson learned?

matt

June 1st, 2011
10:11 am

Cyn -

You just now coming around to the fact that putting blacks in political homelands is not in their best interest ???

Wow, you’re really a deep thinker.

There have been countless conservative pundits that have pointed this out for the last 30 years, but you’re just now seeing this ???

Unfortunately, it isn’t gonna change, Cyn. Any attempt to fix the problem would be met with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton threatening revolution. You know that Cyn, but you didn’t put it in your article …

HDB

June 1st, 2011
10:11 am

Contractor
June 1st, 2011
10:00 am
Obozonomics
June 1st, 2011
10:05 am

Apologize if the truth hurts…but that’s just the way it is!! Racist…far from it….but lest you forget, it was a DEMOCRAT (JFK/RFK) that freed MLK from the Birmingham Jail; it was a DEMOCRAT what got the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts passed (LBJ)…..

I vote on issues…just as you do….and on those issues, the GOP does not serve in my best interest; they are antithetical….

killerj

June 1st, 2011
10:13 am

“You Go Girl”! As-s usual open mouth and insert foot,pathetic journalism.Go Tea Party,excuse my white racist self.

chg

June 1st, 2011
10:14 am

Tucker admits she was wrong because the unintended consequences of social engineering aren’t turning out the way she wanted. If they were, she would not be making such an admission.

[...] Cynthia Tucker wakes up and realizes the federal requirement that we protect majority-minority political districts is actually bad for African-Americans. Racial gerrymanding allows Republicans to ignore them and facilitates the election of people like Cynthia McKinney, Tucker says. 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. [...]

Sue

June 1st, 2011
10:16 am

It’s OK Cynthia. We Progressives are wrong on most everything but were too emotionally wrapped up in ourselves to do anything about it, except abandon reason and logic. We know that gerrymandering and affirmative action are actually reverse racism and contrary to voluntary association but our nose-in-the-air attitudes blind us to that reality.

What we need to do is what our great Progressive presidents, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Lincoln, Bush, and Obama would do. Get us into more wars and take people’s property i.e. their earnings. That’s the mark of a great president, don’t you think?

cosby

June 1st, 2011
10:17 am

Ahh…had to slam the Tea Party…I guess if you believe in limited government, elimination of so called entitlement programs, the illegal 16th amendment you are just a plain racist biggot….as for the race issue…I think the SC Rep said it all and while CT promotes John Lewis, all he does is promote “Government will take care of you” putting all on the Government plantation with no self respect, self being or anything.

mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack the LIAR Obama - BEND OVER, Here comes the CHANGE!

June 1st, 2011
10:20 am

Why don’t you just admit it. You are WRONG on almost everyting. How’s that change working for you. Gas was at $1.81 when NObama took office.

Herman Cain is the MAN!

zeke

June 1st, 2011
10:20 am

Yes and the Supreme Court has ruled several times that it is not Constitutional to draw a district to insure a minority is elected, BUT, it is Constitutional to draw districts to insure a certain political party is elected!!!!! The voting rights act is unconstitutional because IT ONLY APPLIES TO 14 OR 15 STATES AND NOT TO ALL! UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

HDB

June 1st, 2011
10:20 am

Sue
June 1st, 2011
10:16 am

“What we need to do is what our great Progressive presidents…”
You left out Theodore Roosevelt (Republican) who advocated universal health care and the National Park System……

Wrong

June 1st, 2011
10:20 am

And our nation continues to crumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

aps

June 1st, 2011
10:21 am

Clyburn seems to me to be quite racist. Lewis, while I think a decent person, has not done anything in Congress in all his years that I can remember.

Wrong

June 1st, 2011
10:22 am

Theodore Roosevelt also advocated rounding up illegals and sending them back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

a reader

June 1st, 2011
10:22 am

but at least you have digested another example of why/how our two party system …erm… works.

homeslice

June 1st, 2011
10:26 am

The Democratic party supports civil rights for all. They fight for the oppressed against the oppressors. Blacks and Jews will always vote democratic. Their united by a shared history of oppression at the hands of racists and natzis- who vote for the gop.

Contractor

June 1st, 2011
10:28 am

HDB,

The truth hurts? What truth do you speak of? The majority of your race solely votes on who will give them the most without them earning it. That’s why they vote Democrat, because they thought Obama would pay their mortgage, gas money, etc. It’s all on camera. They are so blinded by his color that they didn’t even know who his Vice President would be, some even thought Sarah Palin. So don’t sit there and try to act like it isn’t happening, because the statistics prove the point and on camera interviews prove the point. The reason America will never move on is because the ones screaming racism at every turn are the ones that spread the hate through their kids and spread it through the newer generations. I am not scared to speak the truth, so that probably hits harder than your so called “truth”.

Harry Callahan

June 1st, 2011
10:33 am

“While black-packed districts yielded some quite respectable pols — including U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) ”

LMAO

Mike

June 1st, 2011
10:36 am

“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.”

And that folks, is what her entire article is getting at. Now that the R’s are in charge, we should abandon this policy. She is so predictable…Helloooo.

ridin the white pony

June 1st, 2011
10:43 am

If it requires personal resposibity it has to be RACIST!

HDB

June 1st, 2011
10:44 am

Contractor
June 1st, 2011
10:28 am

So you’re saying that the few that have been interviewed are representative of the many? If I were to look at that, then I’d be correct to say that the racist elements of the Tea Party are representative of the GOP as a whole!! We both know that what is done by a few is not indicative of what is done by the many!

“The reason America will never move on is because the ones screaming racism at every turn are the ones that spread the hate through their kids and spread it through the newer generations.” True…but also note that it is on BOTH sides of the political spectrum…but the GOP wants to LEGISLATE its racism with laws similar to SB1070……