The past is never dead. It's not even past. So wrote William Faulkner more than a half-century ago, and damned if Georgia lawmakers aren't determined to prove him right after all.
We're talking, of course, about political redistricting. The Republicans who rule the Gold Dome spent last week ramrodding through a set of district maps designed to give their party a 120-member supermajority in the state House. If they're successful, then Democratic legislators might just as well stay home and complain about government through blog comments like everyone else.
The GOP's justification? That Gov. Roy Barnes did it to them first, back in 2001 when the Dems controlled the Legislature. True, but for a party that has always been quick to assert its moral superiority, it's not exactly a winning argument.
Typically, you don't have to be persuasive when you're in charge. Unless, that is, you're required to abide by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As you might recall, Georgia is one of eight Southern states (and a few counties scattered across the U.S.) that needs to receive "preclearance" by the Department of Justice before enacting redistricting plans.
This is because these places have long, nasty histories of using racial gerrymandering — among other less palatable tactics — as a means to dilute black political strength. In 2006, several Georgia congressmen argued unconvincingly that the Peach State had been cleansed of institutional racism and should no longer need federal approval. In 2009, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue filed a legal brief opposing the continuation of the Voting Rights Act, essentially claiming that the election of President Obama proves that America is now a post-racial wonderland. This from the guy who won the Governor's Mansion by tricking racist bumpkins into believing he would return the Confederate battle emblem to the state flag.
Now, in addition to needing the DOJ's OK, Georgia Republicans are certain to head to court to defend their latest redistricting maps. (Granted, Democrats would likely sue to alter whatever proposal came forward.)
But this time, the House GOP believes it has its legal ducks in a row: The maps hastily adopted by the General Assembly last week are designed to actually increase the number of black-majority districts at the same time that the total number of Democratic representatives would shrink. This would be accomplished by drawing several white Democratic House members into black-majority districts with African-American incumbents.
The result, if the cynical scheme goes according to plan, would be a Georgia House divided even more sharply along racial lines, with a white Republican supermajority holding all the levers of power and a mostly black Democratic mini-minority whose votes count for nothing. It's hard to imagine how the courts or the feds could see that arrangement as empowering to African-American voters.
But racial balance isn't the only standard the courts consider when reviewing redistricting maps. Other factors include the preservation of "communities of interest" — a hard-to-define term indicating groups of residents who share significant demographics — and the avoidance of gerrymandering when possible.
Again, GOP lawyers could be hard-pressed to explain how slicing and dicing Fulton and DeKalb counties into political confetti in an apparent attempt to dismantle the last remaining Democratic strongholds doesn't qualify as splitting up longstanding communities of interest.
So, even if you're not a Yellow Dog Democrat, be thankful that Georgia is still bound by the Voting Rights Act and other legal restrictions. Our heavy-handed lawmakers need all the supervision they can get when it comes to doing the right thing for the public.
Not surprising at all.. Most of America is a sprawling-strip mall dotted-suburbia speckled-freeway.
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