Does Gerrymandering Set Potential Black Candidates Back?
Thomas Young recently had a very interesting guest column in the Meridian Star where he talked about a couple pretty significant issues that are in play nationally as well as in Mississippi: racial gerrymandering and the lack of black Senators and governors. In his view- and mine- the two topics are very much related. He was talking about on a national level, but you can also look at this within Mississippi where many have pointed out that the state has never elected an African-American to statewide office. Some will charge racism because it is the easy thing to do but lets look at the issue further.
The idea of creating majority-minority districts came from the thought that blacks (or other minorities) would have a better chance of being elected- and thus be better represented- in a district where the majority of the voters in the district are black. In Mississippi, the Second District is one of those districts where about 64 percent of the voters are black. In the other three districts, the black population ranges from about 25-35 percent. The Second has had a black Representative consecutively since 1987, so does that prove the system works?
Yes and no. Yes, Rep. Bennie Thompson will get re-elected in 2010 and every year after and chances are when he retires a black Democrat will succeed him. But, could Thompson ever win statewide? No. He is simply too liberal. He is fine for his liberal, cut out district which he needs to be, but that would not fly in the state as a whole. Thompson can win re-election without a single white vote, something else he couldn’t do statewide (and based on his vote totals I doubt he is receiving too many white votes).
Here is how Young put it:
The problem is that their districts are not representative of the state as a whole because of the deliberate elimination of all those who are not traditional liberal, democratic voters. Such efforts ensure that the best-financed and most well-known black candidates will tend to project a political philosophy that resonates strongly with their district’s minority constituents; however, this excludes positions and messages capable of appealing to statewide voters as a whole. Social statisticians understand the real reason there are so few black senators and governors is that voters statewide are far more politically diverse than the constituencies of black congressional districts.
The same point could be made for most districts in the state House and state Senate. There are twelve majority-black districts (out of 52) in the Senate and 39 in the House (out of 122). Fact checkers can back me up but I believe there is one black member of the legislature not from a majority-black district- Sen. Eric Powell of Corinth.
If African-Americans from the state legislature want to win a statewide election, they are simply going to have to moderate their positions on a host of issues. Of course, they risk losing the black vote when doing so. Take a look at the recent Alabama gubernatorial primary on the Democratic side. Rep. Arthur Davis, who represents a majority-black district in the House, moved sharply to the right in anticipation of his run and even opposed Obama’s signature initiative- healthcare reform. He also downplayed the significance of black leaders in the state (maybe took them for granted) knowing that wasn’t going to win him a general election. The end result, he lost the primary, interestingly, to a white candidate who carried most of the majority black counties in the state. It is a tough and tricky road.