Two intriguing redistricting developments

The week has ended with two intriguing redistricting developments of interest to political geographers.

In the first, that of Texas, the Supreme Court handed down a decision instructing the district court to explain its plan. This is being read as a chance for the Texas GOP to resurrect its original plan, which is widely admitted to favor Republicans. The story’s a bit complex but basically Texas experienced heavy growth in the last ten years, 3/4 of which was Hispanic and African-American. The state thus gained four House seats.

The GOP plan actually reduced Hispanic seats (ie likely to favor Hispanic representatives). The District Court plan drew maps more favorable to Hispanic representation. This New York Times editorial summarises what happened next:

But in the Congressional district maps drawn up by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the number of districts in which minorities could elect a candidate of their choice dropped to 10 districts from the current 11, and the number of safe Republican seats rose to 26 from 21. In trying to fix this imbalance, the district court’s plan created three new districts in which minority voters would be the majority, with the Democrats possibly gaining four seats.

The Legislature’s plan has not gone into effect because Texas, as a state covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for its history of voting discrimination, must have its plan precleared by the Justice Department or by a district court in the District of Columbia. The state chose to go to that court, which is expected to rule on its plan next month. This case runs parallel to that one, with plaintiffs claiming that the same Texas plan also violates the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits a state from denying or abridging the right to vote “on account of race or color.”

More locally, here in Kentucky, the state has been drawing its redistricting maps as well, both for Congress and for the state House. The plan offered here would take away (disenfranchise according to some) the Lexington representative Kathy Stein by placing the district in northeastern Kentucky, and extend another district whose representative lives 200 miles to cover the city. Kelly Flood, a Democratic member made these remarks opposing the plan on the floor of the House. It has since been signed into law by the Democratic governor Steve Beshear (famous outside Kentucky for giving $43m in tax breaks to a Noah’s Ark theme park).

Which is ironic. The scuttle is that the losing GOP candidate in last year’s gubernatorial election, David Williams, was behind this in a case of political payback:

“This disenfranchises Kathy Stein, it disenfranchises my district in Western Kentucky, and it accomplishes an end that (Senate President) David Williams was unable to do at the ballot box,” Ridley said. “This was thrown upon us. At the end of the day, it’s a small group of Republican state Senate leaders who have made this choice, not the 114,000 people that each of us represent.”

In the 2011 gubernatorial election, Williams lost Fayette County to Beshear by a 3-1 ratio.

Because of varying election cycles, Stein’s term ends this year, and she would have to move to the new district before the end of January to seek re-election in 2012.

Should we be surprised that redistricting is highly (geographically) political? Not at all. What is notable though is that Beshear, a Democrat, signed this in to law despite opposition from liberals.

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