If dictionaries catered to all of our senses you would look up “redistricting” to see a picture of pillow, smell the aroma of warm milk, and hear the white noise of gently lapping ocean waves on the beach. To put it another way, it’s not a scintillating topic for those fortunate enough not to be obsessed with politics.
Even to those political junkies who get leg-tingles reading tax legislation, covering redistricting is more akin to a slow boat ride with Janet Napolitano. Using the word twice here in the first paragraph, I’m taking a serious risk that many readers won’t be with us when we get to the second paragraph.
Yet developments earlier this week in Washington State’s redistricting process continue to stimulate interesting questions about a possible role reversal in how Republicans and Democrats perceive minority concerns about fair representation.
The tipping point for my own interest being activated (perhaps yours, as well) came upon hearing a Democratic commenter admonish minorities that they be careful not to “shoot themselves in the foot.”
The comment came after the four members of the State Redistricting Commission revealed their maps for drawing Washington’s ten congressional districts after 2011 at a Tuesday morning public meeting in Olympia, Wash. For those who haven’t been following the redistricting process in Washington, some background is appropriate.
For several months earlier this year, the State Redistricting Commission heard a unified appeal from minorities and those advocating on their behalf at public forums across the state. Minorities made it clear that better representation from election officials is needed and the creation of a new congressional district in King County was universally cited as the appropriate first step toward achieving that goal.
The district proposed by minority voting groups would be a “majority-minority” seat, meaning that minorities would constitute a majority of the population according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Shock and surprise, however, when the redistricting commissioners presented their maps to the public on Tuesday. Both of the Commission’s Republicans situated a majority-minority district in King County, but only one of the Democrats chose to follow suit.
After maps had been unveiled, the meeting opened up for public comment, a session that led off with several people of color and people representing people of color, all of whom reiterated the complaint that they had not received adequate representation and ardently desired a King County district with a majority-minority demographic makeup.
At that point, Marianne Lincoln, a Bethel School Board member (though Lincoln made it clear she was not speaking only as a citizen), sat before the microphone to offer her view of the proposed majority-minority congressional district, an opinion that at moments sounded like a snippet from Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: [Watch video to right.]
“A thought came to me as I’m listening to all these people talking about the majority-minority district. There’s a lot of them, and they seem to be very well-organized. I also tend to lean toward the liberal side or the progressives, and so I favor a lot of what they believe in.
“But I also feel that when you put all the horses in the corral, the cows have the field to themselves and I don’t believe it’s a good idea to take a lot of minority people put them in one district and dilute every other district around them that may otherwise have more progressives … I want to remind them not to shoot themselves in the foot doing that…”
Wallace Webster, citizen, offered a response to Lincoln’s statement a few minutes later, informing the room, “We have not had a foot to shoot.” [Watch video to right.]
Webster may have been alluding to the fact the there has never been a majority-minority congressional district in Washington State. In that sense, creating one would be breaking new ground.
[The videos of the complete comments made by Lincoln and Webster are posted at the bottom of this article for context.]
Whether the patronizing attitude implied by Lincoln’s statement was unintended, as it perhaps was, the insinuation that minorities would be better served by putting their individual concerns behind the greater need for partisan unity was less ambivalent.
The redistricting experience has the potential to leave a very bad taste in the mouths of minorities, many of whom may already be disenchanted with the track record of Democratic leadership at all levels of government. Identity politics can only function if a voter delegates control of their identity to the politicians; it requires some level of voter satisfaction.
But is there a real schism in the soul of the Democratic Party in Washington State? Could Democrats, torn between a key constituency – minority voters – and the need to solidify Democrat districts in advance of an anticipated Republican election year in 2012, have misplaced their moral clarity?
Or is it a simple case of Democrats taking minorities for granted and not listening to the content of their complaints?
Watch Lincoln’s full comments here:
Watch Webster’s full comments here: