The U.S. Constitution requires each state to redistrict their congressional districts every 10 years. That is why the U.S. Census is taken every decade. Each of the nation’s 435 seats in Congress are required to have the same number of people.
Concurrently our 1901 Alabama Constitution calls for the same mandate for our 105 legislative and 35 state senate districts. Each state mirrors the federal constitution’s reapportioning requirement for their state legislatures.
The power to draw these lines rests in the state Legislature. This inherent advantage applies to congressional, as well as their own, legislative districts. Last year our Republican Legislature made quick work in redrawing Alabama’s congressional lines for the next decade. In fact, they accomplished their task during the 2011 regular session, thus avoiding the $500,000 cost of a special session.
Indeed, they again saved the state another half million dollars this year by designing and approving their new districts during a special session within their regular session time.
The Republican majority House and Senate kept their plan secret until the final hour. Indeed, that is their prerogative. They are in control. There is an old saying that those who have the gold make the rules. A similar adage applies in political legislative reapportionment. Those who hold the pencil make the rules and draw the lines.
Republican legislators used their power of the pencil to preserve their control of the state Legislature for the next decade. They accomplished their mission by protecting and solidifying African-American seats. Politics makes strange bedfellows. In the case of redistricting of the Alabama House and Senate districts what is good for white Republicans is good for black Democrats.
By corralling like-minded constituents into safe Democratic or Republican districts you help each other. The ultimate loser in this year’s legislative district realignments is the white Democrat. They are becoming as extinct and obsolete as a dinosaur in the Heart of Dixie. This legislative reapportionment plan further accelerates their obliteration.
Currently the 35 member State Senate is made up of 22 Republicans, 12 Democrats, and one Independent. That Independent, Harri Ann Smith, is a Republican in a definitely Republican district. Therefore, the real partisan makeup is 23 to 12 in favor of the Republicans. Of those 12 Democrats, seven are African-Americans in safe Democratic districts. As mentioned earlier, their districts, as well as the 23 Republican seats, were safely preserved and even enhanced. That leaves the five white Democrats in a tentative dilemma. One of the white Democrats, Billy Beasley, is sitting in a seat designed for a black Democrat. His district is 60 percent African- American. It will remain Democratic. The remaining four white Democrats are Mark Keahey, Jerry Fielding, Tammy Irons, and Roger Bedford. Irons and Bedford are good bets to keep their seats. They are in adjoining districts in the northwest corner of the state. The Republicans drew lines that made Keahey’s and Fielding’s districts vulnerable to a Republican. Assuming that Republicans pick up one of these seats, the makeup of the State Senate for the next decade will probably be 24 to 11 Republican.
The current House makeup is 66 Republicans to 39 Democrats. Under the new lines, the same theme occurs. White Republicans and African-American districts were enhanced. In fact, Republican majority pencil drawers created a new minority district in Huntsville. Thus increasing the number of minority districts in the House from 27 to 28. Lest you think the GOP is being very progressive in their benevolence to their black brethren, as previously mentioned, their altruism enhances their position. All of our metro area delegations will be made up totally of all-white Republicans and all-black Democrats. The best prognostication for the next decade in the House will be 69 Republicans to 36 Democrats.
Rep. Jim McClendon and Sen. Gerald Dial, the chairmen of the committee charged with drawing the lines, did an impressive job of realigning the districts to reflect the state’s population. They did it with an eye towards preserving and even enhancing African- American representation. This mission will ensure the approval of the U.S. Justice Department as required by the Voting Rights Act. It also solidifies and enhances their party’s super majority in the Legislature.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in over 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.