Last month I wrote about a Democratic, white, congressional candidate who was being criticized because he was competing in an historically black Brooklyn district. (The 11th district primary in New York is Sept. 12.) I raised the point about whether blacks office holders in Virginia’s General Assembly might agree to some redistricting that would make their seats less safe (but by no means make them underdogs) in exchange for making other seats that are now reliably Republican more competitive for Democrats.
Regardless of their race or the racial composition of their districts, far too many Democrats in the U.S. House are representing too-safe districts, a reality which prevents the party from maximizing its House seat share. The “unholy alliance” forged between Republicans and minority Democrats led to the election of more CBC and CHC members to Congress, but also more Republicans. As well, many white Democrats enjoy unusual electoral security. A new alliance between white and minority Democrats must be forged, with the goal of redrawing the 2012 maps to enable Democrats to recapture-or, if already recaptured, retain-a House majority.
…[I]n Georgia, for example, where the congressional delegation in 1990 had eight white Democrats, one black Democrat, and one Newt Gingrich, after redistricting, there were three black Democrats and eight Newt Gingrich clones. Since the white Dems had to pay close attention to their black constituents prior to redistricting, while the Gingrichites did not afterwards, are African-Americans better represented under this arrangement? Maybe, maybe not — it depends how important you think it is to have a person of the same race representing you in Washington, as opposed to someone who needs to pay attention to you.
…Rep. John Lewis, who holds that one Atlanta seat that has been African-American since Andrew Young won it in 1972, has been a leader in making the point that if Congress is led by a majority that is hostile to African-Americans, it really doesn’t matter if they have a handful more members of the minority caucus.
This is a discussion that needs to happen in Virginia. I don’t know that there are black districts that can be safely gerrymandered to protect both the incumbent and add a competitive district for another Democrat. But it’s worth a look. With the inordinate power the House Black Caucus seems to hold over the leadership, it will be a challenge to even bring up the question.
After a trip to the woodshed, I’ve learned that black members of the Virginia General Assembly have opposed “packed” minority districts as a dilution of minority voting rights. From a brief supporting a challenge to the state’s 2001 redistricting plan, the implication drawn (see comments) is that they (today, all are Democrats) would welcome redistricting that would dilute the number of black voters in their districts. If that implication is correct, it bodes well for the next redistricting, assuming Democrats have greater input into the process than they had in the last one and that redrawn districts would increase the chances of more Democrats being elected.