Monday, September 26, 2016

Gerrymandering Creates Corrine Browns, Debbie Wasserman Schultzes and Robert Pittengers


Corrine Brown-- a two-and-half decade win-win for the Florida Republicans

Just a tad over two years ago, we looked at 24 year congressional veteran Corrine Brown' and her grotesquely gerrymandered district. I described FL-05 as one that "twists and turns down from the African American neighborhoods of Jacksonville-- that aren't even contiguous-- along a narrow strip a mile or two wide along Rt 17 (which then disappears into Ted Yoho's district and through some sparsely populated rural areas until finally finding Palatka in the east and African-American neighborhoods of Gainesville in the west before chugging down into Sanford and Pine Hills in the Orlando metropolitan area." Much like Wasserman Schultz did, Brown used her position in the state legislature to work with the Republicans to create a seat that served her own purposes-- never having to worry about being defeated-- as well as theirs-- getting thousands and thousands of black Democrats out of neighboring districts that would be safer for Republicans.
Obama won the district both times with 73%. With a PVI of D+21 this district defines "safe." Republicans have trouble winning R+1 districts and they don't try-- not ever, not anywhere, when a district is D+6 or above. Brown is screaming and threatening to go to the Supreme Court because Judge Terry Lewis ordered the legislature to remove Sanford from her district, which might take her down from a D+21 to a D+19, depending on other factors. Republicans didn't bother running candidates against her in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and last year, when there was a Republican running with no support (and a campaign war chest of $19,941 against Brown's $613,190), Brown won with 71%. "We will go all the way to the United States Supreme Court," she thundered, "dealing with making sure that African Americans are not disenfranchised."

Give me a break. Instead of making deals with Republicans in states to create marginally red districts by agreeing to have ethnically-cleansed districts, Democrats like Brown could spread around some of her Democratic voters, still keep a deep blue district that she would never lose, and help the Democrats defeat John Mica, Dan Webster and Ron DeSantis. Marcia Fudge should know better, even if Corrine Brown can't see beyond her own careerism.
Since then, a court ruling forced her district into more rational boundaries-- east/west from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, instead of north/south, still safely Democratic and very friendly territory for an African-American Representative... except not Brown. Facing 24 criminal charges related to swindling people with a charity/personal slush fund-- not on a Trumpian level, but bad enough-- she was soundly defeated by conservaDem Al Lawson in her primary, 39,261 (48%) to 32,157 (39%), despite having outspent Lawson $465,720 to $134,206. Yesterday Fusion ran what could be the premise for a powerful film on a corrupt political system: The Rise And Fall Of Corrine Brown and had the insight into subtitling it, "The brash Florida congresswoman’s career begs the question: Do 'majority-minority' districts empower voters of color… or ghettoize them to benefit conservatives?"
Brown’s dramatic rise and fall highlights the dilemmas of “majority-minority” congressional districts-- political boundaries drawn to group voters of color together. On one hand, such districts have increased opportunities for minority representation in the House. On the other hand, they’ve been used by white majorities, primarily Republicans, to increase power in surrounding districts, effectively sidelining minorities so that the GOP can maintain control of Congress.

The recent push to broaden her district’s demographics, Brown said, amounted to racial discrimination. “It is clear that you all think that slavery still exists, and we can just take those slaves and put them in one area and forget about the people who didn’t have representation for 129 years,” she told reporters during the redistricting fight in 2015-- even though putting African Americans in one area was precisely what Brown had helped do in the 90s, and precisely what the new redistricting sought to correct.

But Brown’s power-- and by extension, that of her African-American constituents-- had always been limited by House Republicans; the majority-minority districting that had boosted her for a quarter-century also gave the GOP a lasting majority. Although Florida’s voters were split about 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats in 1992, the GOP took 13 of the 23 House seats in the 1992 cycle, leaving just 10 for Democrats.

Today, the disparity is even starker: There are 17 Florida Republican reps in the House, and still just 10 Democrats. This was very much by design.

The 1990 census showed that Florida’s population had boomed since a decade prior. The state got to add four congressional districts to its representation in Washington. Democrats controlled both chambers of Florida’s state legislature, which was in charge of the redistricting process, but couldn’t agree how to divvy up voters into new districts.

Miguel DeGrandy, a Miami attorney, was a GOP state representative back in 1992. He remembers how his Cuban American caucus of seven Republicans reached out to the black caucus with a very clear message-- and an overture to join forces: “Your community is being shafted. Our community is being shafted."

DeGrandy says that in drawing maps that laid out boundaries of Congressional districts, Democrats-- who had been in power in Tallahassee since Reconstruction-- used black communities by breaking them up into multiple districts and using them to boost electoral chances for white Democratic candidates, a practice known as “cracking.”

“The Democrats had had a patronizing approach,” he says. They assumed blacks would vote Democratic, essentially telling them, “Trust us-- we’ll take care of you.“

Working with the NAACP, DeGrandy became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Florida, citing the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required that minorities have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. They argued that the state had an obligation to link together minority communities in districts to harness their collective power.

Federal judges ultimately agreed and created three heavily black “majority-minority” districts-- two in South Florida, plus District 3: a sprawling, horseshoe-shaped zone that stretched hundreds of miles to include historically black neighborhoods in 14 counties, from Jacksonville to Orlando to Gainesville. That one went to Corrine Brown.

The GOP came out looking generous. Jet magazine wrote that the “amazing breakthrough resulted not from any design of liberal Democratic leaders who control more than 90% of the U.S. Black vote, but from the late GOP chairman Lee Atwater, a White South Carolinian, who quarterbacked the new congressional redistricting effort in the South to atone for his past actions.”

Democrats “were caught flat-footed,” DeGrandy says. “They thought it was going to be business as usual. They underestimated our legal resources, our legal strategies. They also underestimated public opinion.”

Political scientists say you can draw a straight line from the growth of “majority-minority” districts to the nearly unbroken Republican stranglehold on Congress. “When a majority-minority district is created, the additional minority voters must be taken from somewhere, and that somewhere is the surrounding districts,” Grant M. Hayden, a voting-rights professor at Southern Methodist University’s law school, wrote in 2004.

This “packing” of minority voters leads to a phenomenon in the outside districts that redistricting experts have called “bleaching”[a]: those polities become whiter and more consistently conservative, or at least competitive for Republicans.

These developments stick progressives with a dilemma, Hayden writes, “by forcing them to choose between additional minority officeholders and additional Democrats, between descriptive representation and substantive representation.”

...[R]edistricting reform could never pass through a safe Republican majority in the state Legislature. So the Fair Districts team put the issue directly in front of Florida voters. In 2010, as the Tea Party wave swept America and Floridians voted in historic numbers for Republicans, they also overwhelmingly-- and a little ironically-- approved two state constitutional amendments barring legislators from drawing up new districts to favor a political party or an incumbent.

Republican critics like DeGrandy argue the hugely popular Fair Districts amendments were a “Democrat-sponsored” agenda, but “they were very intelligent in how they how went through the process.”

Corrine Brown, though, saw the move as a threat to the political livelihood she had built over two and a half decades. From 2011 to 2016, while still in Congress, she fought the Fair Districts plan tooth and nail-- in concert with Republicans and conservative corporate donors, and against the ACLU and civil rights groups. Changing her district would represent a “giant step backward to our state's Jim Crow days,” she argued.

African American rights leaders disagreed. "I like Corrine," Leon Russell, an NAACP leader, told the St. Petersburg Times in 2011, "but I wish she hadn't done this. I don't think you should frustrate the process purely on basis of your self-interest, no matter who you are."

Brown’s legal challenges ultimately came to nothing. In July 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that her gerrymandered district violated the Fair Districts amendments and demanded that it be redrawn. It was converted to a more compact east-west shape that runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

...On her blog, Brown conceded her loss with characteristic feistiness. “We fought a battle with one arm tied behind our backs. You know they’ve been after me for years,” she wrote. “We are a strong people. We’re descendants of people who survived the Middle Passage. We have survived centuries of abuse. We are strong. We are still standing.”
This kind of racial gerrymandering isn't, of course, just about Florida or Corrine Brown or her issues. There 809,958 people living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Almost 300,000 of them are African American. Because their city has been gerrymandered up to serve the interests of career politicians rather than the people who live there, listen to what one of the crackpot racist congressmen, Robert Pittenger (R), representing Charlotte had to say after the murder of a black resident by the police and the ensuing demonstrations:

Charlotte is 45.1% white and 54.9% non-white. But Pittenger has nothing to worry about. North Carolina's racist Republican legislature drew his district to be 73.8% white. Mecklenburg County has just about enough people now (over a million) for 2 congressmen of it's own. Instead it's divvied up among 3 districts, one overwhelmingly minority, the 12th, and two that are safely Republican, the 8th and Pittenger's 9th.

The 12th is very much like Brown's old 5th district in Florida. It twists and turns from Charlotte's urban core through Salisbury and Lexington (with sizable African-American populations) before forking off to the northwest to take in Winston-Salem's black neighborhoods and to the northeast to take in High Point and Greensboro's black neighborhoods. Look at this mess:

Without districts like NC-12, there wouldn't be extremist congressmen like Robert Pittenger, or at least there wouldn't be for more than one term. And by the way, in 2012 Obama won NC-12 with 250,719 votes (79%) to Romney's 66,291 (21%). Pittenger's 9th district gave Romney a comfortable 215,861 votes (56%) to 163,883 (43%) while Richard Hudson's 8th district gave Romney a 178,977 (58%) to 126,065 (41%) win. The 3 districts combined gave Obama 540,027 votes and Romney 461,129 votes.

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