The Politics of Redistricting: Our Community Is Fighting On Two Fronts

Anthony Asadullah Samad

*The California Redistricting Commission, the first civilian appointed redistricting effort in the state’s history, has released the first map after of the 2010 census reapportionment.

The commission’s effort to address federal and state representation, while keeping major party partisan politics out of the usual manipulation and gerrymandering that takes place, immediately came under fire from without and within. One thing we know for sure is, somebody is going to be unhappy about the outcome when the congressional and state legislative lines settle in permanently on August 15th.

However, the first snapshot was enough to make folks scatter. While ambition can be blind, it can also be opportunistic. Within days of the release of the maps, pronouncements (and then announcements) were made about who was running for what seat and what that meant for black political empowerment. Southern California has three African American congresspersons.

For the most part, the commission seems to have left that intact, as the major concern was that the black community was going to lose congressional representation. While nothing is final yet, most are pretty confident that any future adjustments to the lines will keep the current configurations in place. The same sensitivity was given to the Latino community, even though they had the most to gain if the African American representation was at risk.

We can now kick that can ten years down the road. If there were some concerns, it was about how the lines were manipulated around strategic assets. The fight is not just about who sits in the seats (more on this in a minute). It’s also about what is in the district. Our community has to fight on two fronts.

The politics of who sits in the seat only becomes complicated when incumbent congressional representatives are forced to “face off,” like the Howard Berman-Brad Sherman face-off coming in 2012 in the San Fernando Valley, because parts of two districts were collapsed into one because of populations shifts throughout the state. California didn’t gain any congressional seats for the first time since the 1940s. While it did not lose any seats, the state has had a population boon and those persons live in areas historically represented by one person. The black community doesn’t have that specific challenge because, even with geographic shifts, the seats Karen Bass, Maxine Waters and Laura Richardson represent have separate and districts voting bases whereby they are not infringing upon each other’s district. In fact, all three seem to be relatively “safe.” A safe seat is where a congressperson pulls two-thirds (or 65%) of the vote. The fact that they appear to have safe seats doesn’t mean they are not vulnerable to challenge. Bass and Waters haven’t had much to worry about, but the phones were ringing off the hook once Richardson lines were unveiled with state legislators licking their chops like Little Red Riding Hood had wondered into their neighborhood. One state legislator even announced he was running for Congress, which to me—was foolish, only because the lines aren’t final yet and after they do become final, there will be tension in getting resources to that community. And Laura Richardson is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, that directs federal mass transportation resources (construction funds, and jobs) to the states. Who needs more mass transit dollars than Southern California? Particularly on Crenshaw, in Leimert Park and Mesa Heights in particular. Why would we even suggest that we wouldn’t support her? But that’s the politics of redistricting. Because people have been on the ballot in a particular area, they think they can beat a strategically placed congressperson. Some people need to…no, better, wake up and slap themselves. District lines shifting is a reason to weaken ourselves politically in Congress.

Instead of becoming preoccupied with who is in the seat, we really need to pay attention of what is being done with these district lines. For instance (and I am GLAD they are on the case),  the California State NAACP President, Alice Huffman, wrote a letter questioning the commissions motives around eliminating the Port of Long Beach from Laura Richardson’s district. It’s a good question. How do you represent Long Beach, without the beach part? Duh? Each district has strategic assets that add value to the district when you calculate employment numbers, manufacturing and trade numbers, etc. Somebody gonna watch these things…thanks NAACP for the tip. But we can’t stop there. We need to look at schools and hospitals, housing stock and technology production. We need to look at the future of work and how these congressional districts are positioned, not just now but ten years from now. The redistricting fight is beyond just representation. It’s about substantiation of sustainable districts. Nobody wants to represent a jobless, asset-less, resourceless district. We need to pay attention to all aspects of what the new redistricting lines will represent. We can’t let the redistricting commission strip the assets from the districts represented by African Americans either.

As this process moves forward, hopefully we won’t let the ambitious push the redistricting conversation to the point where it is reduced to one of “Who Got Next?”

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