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Rokita’s redistricting redraw in reality will wipe Black lawmakers out

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Secretary of State Todd Rokita spent $110,000 in tax money to convince Hoosiers to make the decennial exercise of redrawing legislative maps less political and fairer for Hoosiers.

An expenditure that’s an unsubtle attempt to kick start his hopes to become Indiana’s next governor.

Behind his plan, Rokita, who shepherded the venal Voter ID law, seemed to serve notice that the Indiana Republican Party is embarked upon an effort to systematically reduce the number of African-American Indiana legislators and to imperil Congressman Andre Carson.

Redrawing districts used to be a complicated, cumbersome process, controlled fully by the political bosses in smoke filled rooms laced with liquor.

Then in the 1980s, the personal computer and sophisticated mapping and GIS programs made the process easier and more transparent. Today’s computers make it easier to draw districts equal in population. But considerations of race, geography, communities of interest and politics have led to districts with those bizarre shapes that everyone dislikes.

In the decennial exercise of redrawing congressional and legislative districts, there are five main considerations. Districts must be contiguous, virtually equal in population, be compact, respect communities of interest and, under Indiana law, can’t split precincts.

Especially important to our African-American community, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that districts must respect the right and ability of racial and ethnic (Hispanic) minorities to be able to elect representatives of their choice.

Ominously, Rokita deliberately failed to include that part of the legal mandates of redistricting in his efforts to educate Hoosiers about improving the redistricting process.

Rokita spokesperson Jim Gavin told me “Minority populations were not a primary criteria used when drawing these maps because the courts have said when construing the Voting Rights Act that you’re not supposed to consider these factors (race) when drawing maps”

Gavin and Rokita haven’t researched current Supreme Court decisions.

Thornburg v. Gingles is the current standard used by the court to make sure minority rights are considered in redistricting.

Under the Gingles standard, if a minority group “is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district,” and if that minority group is “politically cohesive,” and if “the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate,” then race can and should be used to draw districts where the minority is in the majority at a level 50 percent or greater.

What I just quoted is from the majority opinion in Bartlett v. Strickland, a redistricting case decided by the Supreme Court March 9 of this year.

The Roberts Court reaffirmed that race can be a criterion in redistricting. For Todd Rokita to eliminate and ignore it not only demonstrates Indiana’s Chief Election Officer isn’t up to date on election law; but that his redistricting schemes aren’t about removing politics from the process, but is about removing African-Americans and other minorities.

Secretary Rokita proffered that his plan respected county and township lines, especially in drawing proposed Congressional maps. If that’s the case, Rokita’s expensive consultants, the Annapolis, Maryland firm CityGate GIS, could’ve used 2008 Census county and township population estimates to create a sample Congressional map based on Indiana’s expected 2010 population.

In using only 2000 Census data, Rokita and CityGate off the bat showed their racial bias and emnity.

In redrawing Indiana’s nine Congressional districts, Indiana’s African-American communities were left intact with one glaring exception. Rokita’s map makers removed Pike Township from their ideal 7th Congressional District.

Pike’s Blacks were placed in a rural dominated district stretching to the Wabash River, while white-majority neighborhoods in the extreme northeast corner of Lawrence and Washington Townships replaced them.

Rokita’s creation of model legislative districts treated African-Americans far worse, especially here in Marion County, the state’s largest African-American community.

Marion County’s hemorrhaged non-Hispanic whites for nearly 50 years. A trend the 2010 Census will again confirm. Minority growth in Indianapolis/Marion County means the city/county can easily create and support seven minority-majority House and two minority-majority Senate districts which meet the current Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.

And if 2008 Census Black population estimates for Indiana are confirmed in the 2010 Census, there could be as many as 17 to 19 minority-majority legislative districts. In the House – one each in Allen and St. Joseph counties, four in Lake and seven in Marion Counties. In the Senate – two each in Lake and Marion Counties.

And depending on the homogeneity of Hispanic neighborhoods, two additional Hispanic minority-majority districts could be created in either Lake or Marion Counties.

An eyeball look at Rokita’s plan for state legislative districts shows in Marion County he reduced minority-majority districts down to four. This in a county where Black population is rising 9.5 percent, while non-Hispanic white population is falling 5.2 percent.

I don’t know the full impact of Rokita’s plan because his staff only provided racial demographic data for their congressional maps; not their legislative maps.

It’s not only critical that everyone in Indiana and Indianapolis is counted in next year’s Census. It’s even more critical that our Black elected officials and Black civic leaders arm themselves now for the massive battle that will occur when the Census data is released in March 2011.

Expect Governor Mitch Daniels, Republican legislative leaders, whipped into a frenzy by Todd Rokita, to engage in an all out assault to reduce the number of Black legislators (and other local officials) elected in Indiana’s major African-American communities.

If we’re not ready, the gains we’ve made the past 40 years will be wiped out with the click of a computer’s mouse!

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915.

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