As the post-Census 2000 redistricting draws to a close, the big winners haven’t been minorities, but rather incumbents.
By Joel Russell
HISPANIC BUSINESS® magazine
Congressional officeholders from both parties have won safer seats for the next decade, and voters of all kinds may end up the losers. Hispanics accounted for 40 percent of the U.S. population increase during the 1990s, but experts agree those gains won’t translate into proportional gains for Hispanic lawmakers in the nation’s capitol. “This is probably the one redistricting where Latinos have fared the worst, certainly below what our demographic growth would indicate,” says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). “Most of the [redistricting] plans were incumbent-protection plans.” Robert Brischetto, demographic consultant and former research director at the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, notes that after the 1980 redistricting, the number of Hispanics in Congress immediately jumped from five to nine. After 1990, the total rose from 10 to 17. Currently it stands at 19 (see table). “Every decade we see this jump,” Mr. Brischetto says. “Yes, it’s probably going to be less than the bumps [Hispanic representation] received in previous redistrictings, but I would be surprised if you don’t see a jump in the number of seats Hispanics hold in Congress.” At this point in the 2002 election cycle, only a few Hispanics show a good chance of moving into Congress. Favorites include Florida’s Mario Diaz-Balart, brother of Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and California’s Linda Sanchez, sister of Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Demo-crat Dario Herrera faces a close election in Nevada, and Portuguese-American Dennis Cardoza looks likely to keep California Congressman Gary Condit’s district in Democratic control. Other Hispanic candidates appear on primary ballots, but most face incumbent Hispanic opponents or heavy odds in the November general election. The slow-growth outlook stems from changes in redistricting rules during the last decade. In 1990, the Justice Department encouraged state legislatures to design “majority-minority” districts that could elect minority members of Congress. A series of Supreme Court decisions, however, narrowed the acceptable limits of race- and ethnicity-based districts. As a result, state legislatures took a safer route this time around, considering incumbency as the main factor when drawing the map. “Courts are much more tolerant of partisan gerrymandering than racial gerrymandering,” says Mr. Brischetto. “After [the 1990 Census], you used race and ethnicity to draw the lines. You looked at the minority percentage [of voters] as a guide to create a winnable minority district. And then you drew other districts. … Now, you look at race as one factor, but not the predominant factor. You use traditional factors such as incumbency, other political boundaries, and no odd shapes. Naturally, you’re going to create districts that are less winnable by minorities.” He adds that most Hispanic members of Congress have majority-Hispanic districts (see table); for those who don’t, their districts qualify as majority-minority if African Americans and Asian Americans are taken into account. With stricter legal standards in place for racial gerrymanders, Mr. Brischetto expects political operatives to be on the lookout for any violations. Nathaniel Persily, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies redistricting, agrees, saying the litigation will get “very political, with little attention paid to the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.”
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