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

TnGelding

June 2nd, 2011
12:38 am

You could have stopped with I was wrong about racial… It’s big of you to be able to admit it. Let’s allow Dr. King’s dream to flourish.

TnGelding

June 2nd, 2011
12:45 am

We’ve been spreading the wealth rather successfully since the Great Depression. Wasn’t that Joe the Plumber’s Apprentice?

The courts can be used to stop gerrymandering. And should be.

giantslor

June 2nd, 2011
12:46 am

If this “racial gerrymandering” is so good for Republicans, then why has the right-wing reaction to your column been so positive? Because the policy has been BAD for Republicans. What Republicans would really like to do is spread blacks so thin that most of those black Democrats are voted out and white Republicans are voted in.

Jackspratt

June 2nd, 2011
4:14 am

What would make black voters happy? Absolutely nothing except for total control of all sections of government with whitey obliged to pay the taxes. In short, until American Blacks get something that looks like modern South Africa, nothing will make them content as small d democrats. Picking winners and guaranteeing black seats wasn’t good enough for them. Perhaps they would like a return to Reconstruction when native whites (Yankees could though) couldn’t vote. That would guarantee plenty of black seats!

Racial Gerrymandering and Idiots

June 2nd, 2011
7:13 am

[...] Cynthia Tucker, the longtime editorial page editor for the AJC, has issued a retraction. 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. [...]

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 2nd, 2011
7:14 am

Atlanta showed in the last election that it’s racist citizens are not yet advanced enough to elect a white mayor.

J coner

June 2nd, 2011
7:22 am

Cynthia reminds me of the Eddie Murphy skit on Saturday Night Live where he went undercover as a white man.

There is no secret handshake, no collaboration to keep blacks down, no conspiracy to make sure whites win. Those days are gone. Any nut job still spewing the hatred is mostly ignored. Most people just want to live their lives. Where did this belief come from that blacks can only succeed when the government gives it too them?

Maybe people are waking up to the fact that these social engineering schemes do more to articulate the differences in people than bringing them together.

Good Grief

June 2nd, 2011
7:41 am

Illinois’s version of gerrymandering has always bothered me. I brought up the 4th Congressional distrcit earlier, but if you get a chance look at the 17th. The town of Pana and the city of Decatur are both in the 17th Congressional distrcit, but to drive the shortest distance between these two towns, a distance of about 25-30 miles or so, takes you through two other districts. That’s messed up.

Paul

June 2nd, 2011
7:51 am

Actually some intelligent comments here for a change, not just the usual Cynthia bashing. Just to correct one point – Obama also fared well with the young and with the well educated. Hmmmm….

Joe

June 2nd, 2011
7:55 am

Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s Propaganda Chief) believed that if one lies and repeats it often enough it would become truth to the public. That seems to be the case with the GOP lately – note that several herein are using the “social engineering” phrase du jour…..

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 2nd, 2011
8:11 am

McCain did well among people who love America.

What do those “well educated” Obozo voters think of his $1.5 trillion deficits and perpetual 9% unemployment? Apparently there’s a difference between education and wisdom.

MKS

June 2nd, 2011
8:38 am

It’s hard to admit when you are wrong; I have had to do it myself at times. But it’s encouraging when someone has the integrity to do it. Gerrymandering for racial reasons, or any other reason, is a bad idea.

Now, on another issue – playing the “race card”. Racism stills exists, and probably always will. Our task is to minimize it and prohibit its institutionalization. When “racism” is cited too frequently, and with false or trivial reasons, it makes people callous to the seriousness of real racism. Too many can feel that, “If I am going to be called racist for something like this, I am going to disregard the criticism altogether”. Then, real racism emerges in strength, just as the real wolf eventually comes upon the boy who falsely cried “wolf”.

I think progressives have been crying “wolf” on this matter too often in the last thirty years or so. Rep. Clyburn’s (D-SC) recent comments ascribing opposition to President Obama to racism may well be an example of this.

I do not oppose President Obama because he is partially black; I oppose President Obama because he is totally leftist.

David Granger

June 2nd, 2011
9:28 am

“…those racially gerrymandered districts also come with a significant downside”

Just like Affirmative Action and all the rest of those “but if we don’t discriminate, the numbers don’t work”, huh Cynthia?

straitroad

June 2nd, 2011
9:43 am

Most white Americans are able to look past skin color. The vast majority of black Americans either can’t or won’t look past skin color.

Kamchak

June 2nd, 2011
9:48 am

Most white Americans are able to look past skin color. The vast majority of black Americans either can’t or won’t look past skin color.

There’s your sign.

Oi!

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
9:49 am

I would argue institutional racism, and most cultural racism, has been eliminated. will you eliminate it from Joe Redneck in the trailer park? Probably not. Will you eliminate racism in the impoverished black living for the 3rd generation in public housing? Probably not. But, it really is not a big problem for 80% of the citizens.

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
9:50 am

you can’t really blame blacks for voting for a viable Presidential candidate who was black. I would bet 90% of irish catholics voted for Kennedy. It just is. Now, if you are black man who owns a business, or earns over $100,000 – and you vote for Obama in 2012, you are a distinct moron.

Robert

June 2nd, 2011
10:46 am

Gerrymandering or Annexations? The process has already begun. For example – Johns Creek and Milton cities who have annexed and are controlled by homegrown terrorist group(s) known as the “tea party” (klansmen, skinheads, birthers, etc.). The whole world saw their hatred and bigotry on display during the 2010 midterm elections and heard their call to battle (take back my country) as well as saw the majority of White Americans across this country embrace the “tea party” as a protest to President Obama, elected by the majority of all the American People in 2008. Annexations was a major cause of the civil war when Southern States tried to succeed from the Union and form their own country. “The South Will Not Rise Again”

Ann

June 2nd, 2011
10:54 am

Cynthia admitting she was wrong?! Read on and you’ll see that what follows her admission of error is the acknowledgement that she’s wrong because it didn’t turn out to favor blacks after all. If, in fact, it had favored blacks then there would have been no “wrong” in the first place. The truth is race-baiting and race favored policies are always wrong, Cynthia. They fly in the face of the goal of MLK and in the face of right and wrong. People should be treated fairly regardless of skin color. Isn’t that what those of us who believe in civil rights should be fighting for. We have had decades of affirmative action and race baiting policies and what do we have. A black president, albeit an incompetent one. And more divisive racial politics than before. District boundries should be drawn in a sensible fashion and then politicians should have to battle it out for their seats in a diverse environment. It was the dems who wanted these racial gerrymandered districts and now – they made their bed and can lie in it. Tough. After being called all kinds of names by Cynthia and her compatriots, I can muster NOT one shred of sympathy for their self-inflicted plight.

Ann

June 2nd, 2011
10:54 am

@Robert
What rock have you been living under? To call the tea party a terrorist group is so hyperbolic, hysterical, inaccurate and unfair that reading the rest of your post was just a confirmation of your complete idiocy and hatred. Your hatred and bigotry are on full display.

[...] her column from June 1, Tucker starts out by saying: Unfortunately — like so many measures designed to provide redress for historic wrongs — those [...]

Robert

June 2nd, 2011
11:19 am

@Ann
What rock have you been living under? According to the dictionary (Webster) the “tea party” fits the definition of a terrorist – “terrorism — Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective ”

What facts are you disputing about these terrorist?

1. Johns Creek and Milton cities who have annexed and are controlled by homegrown terrorist group(s) known as the “tea party” (klansmen, skinheads, birthers, etc.).

2. The “tea party” is against minorities, women, gays & lesbians and Muslims & Jews.

3. The whole world saw the hatred and bigotry on display by the “tea party” during the 2010 midterm elections and heard their call to battle (take back my country)

4. The American People saw the majority of White Americans across this country embrace the “tea party” and vote for the entire GOP ticket regardless of the candidates experience as a protest to President Obama, elected by all the American People in 2008.

5. Annexations was a major cause of the civil war when Southern States tried to succeed from the Union and form their own country.

6. “The South Will Not Rise Again”

It’s time to choose sides. The American People or the homegrown terrorist group(s) known as the “tea party” – What side are you on?

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:20 am

Robert – you are so full of manure it is leaking out your ears, and your eyes are brown.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 2nd, 2011
11:23 am

#4 is my fave–failing to vote for Dear Leader’s party is racism.

Moron.

Robert

June 2nd, 2011
11:25 am

@Paddy O
It’s time to choose sides. The American People or the homegrown terrorist group(s) known as the “tea party” – What side are you on? Repent…or face the consequences of your actions.

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:25 am

Cynthia is wrong about being wrong. I think she just does not like the marginalization of the democratic party which resulted from Barnes’ flag change.

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:28 am

Robert: Via you own definition, what violence has the TEA party committed? Griping about the gross ineptitude of Obama? That is freedom of speech. YOU were OK voting for neophyte Obama, but protest electing simple congressman with little experience? Sir, thou art a clown.

Kamchak

June 2nd, 2011
11:28 am

Shorter Ann @ 10:54: Boo-hoo-hoo

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:29 am

The TEA party is for lower taxes, all the rest you ascribe to them is you own delusions.

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:32 am

Robert – i would not be on the side of someone so obviously delusional as yourself. You do not provide credible arguments for your assertions. What about, what appears from Obama’s drunken spending, Obama’s destruction of the value of the US dollar? Does that worry you? Once the economy does recover, it will be anchored by inflation, due to the loss of value to the $$$. Are you NOT worried about deficit spending? If not, why?

Kamchak

June 2nd, 2011
11:33 am

Are you NOT worried about deficit spending? If not, why?

But…but…but…Cheney said that Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.

Translation — IOKIYAR

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:34 am

What consequences are you pretending to be able to bring about?

Paddy O

June 2nd, 2011
11:38 am

Robert – you are a disciple of the Nazi Goering. Keep repeating the domestic terrorist. We shall see what type of cult you develop.

Call it like it is

June 2nd, 2011
11:49 am

Oh, I will take the Tea Party………….and Robert we know where you live.

Robert

June 2nd, 2011
11:49 am

@Paddy O
One of the most successful tactics used by terrorist is “fear” and the “tea party’ has fanned the flames by insisting that the economy is going to get worst and people are going to lose their jobs, homes and not be able to maintain our standard of living which is causing alot of people to give in to this “fear” tactic and cling to people who claim to be looking out for their best interest (TV/Radio media, etc.).

I have faith and I fear God not man and I hope and pray everyday which gives me hope and strengthens me. I will not give in to fear, hatred or rage/mob mentality. My God provides for all my needs not the USA government. It’s time to choose sides. The American People-In God We Trust or the homegrown terrorist group(s) known as the “tea party” – What side are you on?

BBG

June 2nd, 2011
11:55 am

Paddy/Robert: you’re both wrong. God doesn’t have a fiscal policy. Goering was forgiven, like the two of you have been.

You see, God does forgive morons too, you know.