No, really: all three African-American Congressmen from Illinois are loudly complaining that the current redistricting map as drawn may be in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Illinois Republicans are currently suing to have the map overturned, largely on the grounds that under the usual interpretation of federal law the new map needs to have more than one majority-Hispanic district. As this Roll Call article notes:
The Hispanic population in Illinois is greater than the black population. But the map drawn by Illinois Democrats creates three districts with a black voting-age population of more than 50 percent and one district with a Hispanic voting-age population of almost 66 percent. The district with the Hispanic super majority was drawn for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D).
…and that Representatives Danny Davis, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Bobby Rush all refused to contribute to the Democratic defense fund set up to handle court costs from the lawsuit (Jackson in particular has been pushing Section 2 issues with this administration). To call this open break within the Democratic party ‘awkward’ is an understatement; it is in fact seriously jeopardizing the Left’s attempt to retroactively destroy the GOP’s remarkable gains in Illinois in 2010.
…OK, so what’s really going on?
Honestly? This is just fairly straightforward racial gerrymandering politics. The current Illinois headcount is 11R/8D; the state needs to drop a seat, which guarantees significant redistricting changes; the legislature is controlled by Democrats; …and the Democrats got a little too cute with their map* (which Michael Barone estimated would possibly result in a seven seat shift to the Democrats). Truth be told, if Hispanic voters outnumber African-American ones then the current rules do expect that a special district be crafted for them… and Congressmen from majority-minority districts are notoriously intolerant of any attempts to affect that basic principle (t the point where they’ll happily collude with Republican legislators who will cheerfully back them up). But the problem here for the Illinois Democratic party is that redrawing the map so that it reverses the 2010 election results was hard enough when they were simply doing regular gerrymandering; if they have to protect four districts (the three existing AA and one existing Hispanic-majority districts) AND create a new district that is majority-Hispanic** then they will be severely limited in the amount of electoral distortion that they can do to the map. And there’s not much room for Democrats to wiggle, here.
Case in point: Jesse Jackson, Jr. himself. As the Roll Call article above noted (more here) Jackson’s redrawn district now includes sufficiently ‘exurban collar counties’ (which I believe is Roll Call-ese for ‘white’) that ousted Democrat Debbie Halvorson is going to run against him in the next primary. What the Roll Call article did not note is that Representative Jackson was sort of, kind of involved in the Rod Blagojevich scandal… which is something that apparently doesn’t resonate much in his district as currently configured, but might in the district that he’s been assigned (particularly if he’s got a real primary challenger). So Jackson doesn’t want his district changed; and Representatives Rush and Davis both understand the principle of solidarity; and, hey, the lack of a second Hispanic-majority seat is a tailor-made excuse for digging in one’s heels. And, of course, having Democratic minority legislators come in on the Republican side of the lawsuit would be a big PR win for the GOP.
Full disclosure: I despise racial gerrymandering, largely because it produces incompetent legislators whose only genius lies in protecting their turf and feathering their nests. But it exists, and until the Democrats themselves are willing to eliminate the practice then they can darn well live with the negative consequences. That one of these negative consequences may result in the reversal of the Democrats’ primary attempt to deny the reality of the 2010 Congressional elections is merely serendipity…
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*There is a Democrat murmuring right now, “Just like the Republicans did with Texas.” That is a topic for another post, however.
**The assumption here, by the way, is that a new Hispanic-majority district will be reliably Democratic. Don’t count that chicken quite yet, though.