Can America Transcend Race?
September 24 2003
For those who consider politics a spectator sport, there have been few
more enjoyable spectacles this year than the battle in the Texas
legislature – with the exception, of course, of the California recall.© 2003 Creators
With Republicans controlling both houses, Gov. Rick Perry has been
trying to redraw Texas' congressional districts to add five or six seats
to the GOP delegation in Congress. Democratic legislators have sought to
frustrate Perry's plans by fleeing Texas and denying him a quorum.
First, 50 House members fled to Oklahoma and holed up until the
legislature adjourned. When Perry called a special session, 11
Democratic state senators bolted to New Mexico. In Austin, the GOP
majority voted to fine each of the 11 $57,000. But when one Democratic
senator broke ranks and returned to Austin, Perry's perseverance
appeared to have paid off. He has called yet another special session.
Facing defeat, Democrats have decided to play the race card. As the
Washington Post's Lee Hockstader reports, the "sedate and collegial body
whose members proclaim their love of consensus" is aflame with charges
that the GOP Senate majority is a nest of "racists, supremacists and
The GOP redistricting plan is suddenly being portrayed as a racist plot
to disfranchise Hispanics and blacks. Raged San Antonio Sen. Frank L.
Madla: "The last time I was treated the way we were treated on the
Senate floor was when I was about 6 years old when I first entered the
first grade and I was just a little Mexican boy who had his first taste
of what white supremacy was like."
Madla was echoed by Sen. Marlo Gallegos Jr., a Democrat from Houston's
inner city, who attacked GOP Sen. Tommy Williams, who hails from the
wealthy enclave north of Houston known as the Woodlands.
"The people from the Woodlands did not elect me," Gallegos told
reporters. "That's a gated community. The nearest gated community to me
in inner-city Houston is the county jail." What is behind these racially
Republicans had proposed to eliminate the $57,000 fines and merely
declare them on probation. It was a gesture of conciliation that black
and Hispanic senators took as an insult.
Now let it be said: These incendiary charges of racism are not only
fraudulent, they are palpable lies, false on their face. Not only are
Hispanic and black districts protected by the U.S. Voting Rights Act,
the GOP has no intention of ousting minority legislators. To do so would
risk a federal court reversal and the ruin of their plans. The GOP
targets are white liberals, and black and Hispanic Democrats know it.
The perverse effect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act is that, in
redistricting battles in the South, Republicans are forced to crowd
blacks and Hispanics into "super-majority districts." For the only
permissible and feasible way the GOP can add to party numbers in
Congress under the VRA is by taking out white Democrats.
Assume a state with 3 million people, five House seats and a 60-40 GOP
registration. A GOP legislature might normally create five districts
with 60-40 GOP majorities. But if 20 percent of the state's population
were black and civil-rights lawyers went into U.S. court to claim blacks
were being denied a right to elect one of their own, that federal court
might order a redrawing of the districts.
The GOP would then create a new district by putting most or all of the
black voters into one district. That would meet the demands of the U.S.
court by giving black voters an opportunity to elect one of their own.
But it would also enable the GOP legislature to create four new, even
more solid, 75-25 Republican districts.
Black folks would have gotten a congressman where they had none before.
Republicans would be satisfied with the remaining four, even more
secure, seats. White Democrats would be out in the cold.
This is where America is headed, as the white population, 90 percent of
the nation in 1960, is now around 70 percent and falling, and 50 percent
in Texas and falling.
As protected minorities become majorities, as they already have in
California, Hawaii and New Mexico, and soon in Texas, the requirements
of the Voting Rights Act can most easily be met by drawing districts on
racial and ethnic lines, leaving the GOP a white party with a smattering
of black and Hispanic supporters, and the Democratic Party a black and
Hispanic party with a smattering of white supporters.
As charges of racist, supremacist and bigot fly, and the name-calling
across the racial divide increases in intensity and volume, folks will
tend to go with their own. That is not how it was meant to be in the
1960s, but it is where we are headed.
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