Gerrymandering Comes to Arkansas

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Little Rock      Gerrymandering here, gerrymandering there, North Carolina, Oregon, New York, Ohio, Texas, one state after another where there is a supermajority is getting into mystery mapping to try to hold on or extend the power of the prevailing party.  The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says Republican state legislatures have already gerrymandered their maps so severely that they can only go so much further. Republicans appear more intent on shoring up their vulnerable incumbents than destroying Democratic seats, they believe.  With control of the US House of Representatives on the knife edge between the two dominate parties, politics has become a blood sport practiced by both parties seeking an advantage.

Pennsylvania thought they had it nailed.  Voters established an independent body to draw the redistricting maps in a nonpartisan way.  Problem is that the commission they created included partisan elected officials, so that has led to a stalemate, and they are crying “uncle,” and asking the courts to do the mapping now.  The “all’s fair” theme in these contests does have other limits, as the hard red North Carolina Republican legislature continues to learn as their maps are undone by the courts over and over again because, and there’s no pretty way to say this, they are also racially discriminating in their efforts, and that’s still a no-no under the law.  That seems to also be the case in Arkansas, though it has not gotten much attention.

For the first time in just about forever, the Republicans have a supermajority in the Arkansas state legislature.  They passed two redistricting bills which chopped and diced the 2nd Congressional District and split what had been one Congressional seat into pieces of three.  This district, the old Wilbur Mills district, has been Republican recently, though contested, and contains Pulaski County, home of Little Rock, North Little Rock, and the capital.  Also, home to a significant Latino and African-American population.  The howling has been at the top of the lungs.  Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, always one to take a tough stand, faced the uproar and accusations of blatant discrimination, by saying he would not sign the bill, but would let it come into law in 90 days, claiming that gave opponents a show at stalling or upending the action.  Another profile in cowardice.

All kinds of politicians and community leaders signed a notice in the local paper for those who buy it to hand rather than get it on an iPad.  Their case is straightforward:

…the Pulaski County population being moved from the second congressional district to the first is 58% Black, 34% White, and 4% Latinx – over 65% minority.  The Pulaski County populations being moved from the second congressional district to the fourth is 49% Black, 27% White, and 22% Latinx – more than 72% minority.  In contrast, the Pulaski County population remaining in the second congressional district is 52% White, 34% Black, and 7% Latinx.  In an even stronger contrast, the map adds Cleburne County to the second congressional district to replace the Pulaski County voters being moved out, and Cleburne County is 93% White, 2.5% Latinx, and 0.3% Black.  These numbers speak for themselves.

Opponents argue, convincingly, that this 10-year map is all about preventing the election of a non-white, likely Democratic, representative from the Second Congressional District which has represented Pulaski County for a century.

The 90-day period gives opponents a chance to get 55,000 or more signatures to put the maps to the voters in a referendum to try to overturn the gerrymandering, but you can bet the courts will be polled as well.  Politicians in Arkansas, like those in the rest of the country, need to learn that if they are going to cheat and discriminate, just like card players, they shouldn’t be so obvious about it.