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Gerrymandered Out of a Voice and a Vote

As the election season picks up steam, the matter of voting rights is making its way back into the mainstream media. Voters need to have their voices, and their votes counted. However, many of the newest congressional districts have been drawn in a way that limits the voice and voting power of people of color, which has repercussions for our democracy beyond the violation of personal rights.

Gerrymandering is the deliberate manipulation of district lines in favor of one party or class. It’s partially to blame for our current political climate. Gerrymandering not only creates extreme polarization and weakens the votes of moderates and minorities, it also reinforces racial stereotyping and housing segregation. Politicians capitalize on this disparity by creating fewer districts with high concentrations of minorities to erode representative power of people of color at both the state and federal level.

In a high-stakes election year it’s especially critical to ensure our elections are equally representative and fair. Gerrymandering conflicts with these principals and creates systematic barriers that must be addressed and remedied.

As David Wasserman, a leading political analyst and editor observed, “In the process of quarantining Democrats, Republicans effectively purged millions of minority voters from their own districts, drawing themselves into safe, lily-white strongholds with an average Republican House district that is 75 percent white.”

While the 1965 Voting Rights Act mandates increased representation for people of color, those in power are using the law it to justify gerrymandering as the only way to maintain racial fairness and representation. The Courts have found this justification faulty.

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that two districts in North Carolina are unconstitutional based on racial gerrymandering and must be redrawn for the November 2016 elections.

While North Carolina’s presidential primary still went forward in March , the congressional primary has been moved to June 7. The Supreme Court denied North Carolina’s request for a stay, effectively enforcing the lower court’s ruling to begin the process of redrawing the congressional map. The ruling illustrates the court’s likelihood of following previous decisions, such as those against Alabama and Virginia last year.

Those rulings confirmed that most of the districts in those states were blatantly racialized and violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – that districts cannot be based on “any predetermined or fixed demographic information.” These rulings were made when Justice Scalia still remained on the Court, and although his death has shifted the dynamics of the bench, it seems likely that the lower courts ruling will be upheld.

The effects of gerrymandering are visible and have long-term consequences for our country and the sanctity of our democratic process. Whether it is the gridlock in Congress, the extreme rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, or the lack of political power of people of color already in Congress, the effects are being felt with few options for recourse.

The current congressional map makes it difficult for Democrats to regain control of the House, as evidenced in 2012 when Democrats won 1.4 million more votes nationally, yet Republicans won 33 more seats in the House of Representatives.

And while all but three of the African-Americans in the House are Democrats, they are bound to stay part of the minority party with fewer high-ranking committee appointments because of their ‘safe’ districts and the tendency for party leaders to “dole out plum assignments and opportunities to carry legislation to members facing competitive elections” All of these are consequences of politicians’ clear conflict of interest when drawing their own district lines.

Potential tools to address this issue have been implemented in 23 states in varying degrees across the country. States have established three types of independent commissions. Thirteen states give their commission primary responsibility for drawing new districts, five have an advisory commission that assists the legislature, and five have a backup commission that will make the decision if the legislature is unable to agree.

This is a significant step in removing the conflict of interest that fuels gerrymandering. However, it is crucial to be aware of how the commissions are selected and designed to prevent the perpetuation of partisan politics that led us down this path in the first place.

Recent court cases have bolstered gerrymandering visibility and outrage, and set precedents for the future. Typically, redistricting occurs after the most recent U.S. Census, which is done every ten years. That means that 2020 will be the next big opportunity for legislators and citizens to stand up and fight for common sense districts that reflect the people who live there and represent the diversity of race, religion, ethnicity, and beliefs within our communities.

Daley Weekly: Libero Temporarily in the Hot Seat

This might be the Daley Weekly, but I’m no Bill Daley.

I am Libero Della Piana, filling in temporarily on the Daley Weekly.

As Bill pointed out in last week’s entry, I am in the hot seat for the next few weeks as Bill goes for a much-deserved vacation. While I can hardly fill his seat, I hope to keep it warm for him while he’s gone.

I’ll try to identify important (or at least interesting to me) political and economic trends in the country and the world with a wry sense of humor and a skeptic’s eye. Well, maybe not as wry or skeptical, but I can try.

Also, as I am not deep in the swamps of the District of Columbia as Bill is, I will report on Washington from afar and add a little Gotham to my weekly musings. As far as I know there is not as of yet a complaint department here at the Daley Weekly, so please hold your grievances, at least ‘til Bill returns.

–       Libero Della Piana

Benjamin Bradlee, 1921-2014

Ben Bradlee, the seminal editor of the Washington Post, who published the Pentagon Papers, passed away this week at the age of 93. Bradlee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year from President Obama.

In the face of White House threats, Bradlee encouraged Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s daring reporting on the Watergate scandal. Bradlee and those two reporters almost certainly helped change the course of U.S. history by at least hastening the exit of President Richard Nixon.

Bradlee’s passing was noted not just for his journalistic work, but also for what he represents. He was an archetypal newsman and editor, the kind seemingly rare in today’s news biz. To the veteran anchors and newsmakers, the principled, hard-nosed newsroom editor, ready to buck the powers-that-be and back his reporters, is going the way of the dodo bird. It is with deep respect and perhaps more than a bit of nostalgia that reporters and pundits bid Bradlee adieu.

Police and Prisons

October 22 was the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. The annual day of protest took on special importance this year just two months after the high-profile killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Energized and enraged from the #FergusonOctober weekend of action a few weeks ago, activists from Atlanta, to Los Angeles, to Oakland to St. Louis took to the streets to call for justice in Brown’s killing and to say, simply, “Black Lives Matter.”

Dramatic actions to block freeways and city streets drew more press than the Day of Action has probably ever received and generated some dramatic photos.

This is on the heels of the leaking of information from the Grand Jury empanelled in the shooting of Michael Brown. For the first time we learned of police office Darren Wilson’s account of events when his testimony was leaked and reported by the New York Times. Then the autopsy was leaked. Both incidents hinted at an eventual non-indictment for Wilson, an eventuality that heightened tensions in the St. Louis are over last weekend.

Protestors and community residents continue calls for indictment of Wilson or a special prosecutor in the case, and for Department of Justice civil rights charges. The announcement that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will create an independent commission to look into the case. Tempers remain high.

Giving ICE the cold shoulder

Meanwhile around the country the “detainer” policies of the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are being rebuffed. ICE has been in the habit of forcing local police to hold immigrant suspects to await deportation by immigration officials – even if they would not otherwise be detained.

But following some high-profile court cases that decided detainer holds were either unconstitutional or not mandatory, more and more municipalities and counties are pulling the plug on the cozy relationship between local cops and ICE.

Riker’s Island, New York City’s main jail, had an infamous ICE office where immigrants awaiting trial could be rerouted straight to deportation. But as of this week, thanks to AJS affiliate Make the Road New York, and other groups, the ICE office at Riker’s Island is closed and hardly a single county in New York still participates in cooperation with the unnecessary and patently unfair practice that was ripping families apart.

Ebola

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a tragedy leaning towards disaster at this point. But after listening to some of the fear mongers in the U.S., I find myself laughing, not crying or cowering in my closet.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) thinks the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in Syria and Iraq will infect themselves with Ebola and make their way to the U.S. to destroy Western Civilization. Never mind that intelligence and scientific experts say the idea is ridiculous, the good Senator has just exposed our Achilles’ heel to the wrongdoers. Sounds like he’s playing for the other team.

Then there is Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) who have sounded a false alarm about Mexican and Central American immigrants bringing Ebola over the Southern Border. I have to give Bill Daley credit on this one. Your very own Daley Weekly scooped this story a few weeks ago, predicting that anti-immigrant demagogues would attack refugee children at the border as Ebola spreaders. Of course, influenza kills between 3,000 and 49,000 in the U.S. each year, but we have priorities, right?

While the anti-scientific nonsense is flying on cable news and the halls of Washington, U.S. authorities have essentially contained Ebola after early mistakes and delays plagued Ebola response. As of this writing, one of the two nurses who contracted the disease in Dallas has been ruled Ebola-free, and a small number of others who might have been exposed to Ebola in Dallas have all been given a clean bill of health after 21 days of quarantine.

Now the first case has surfaced in New York, a doctor who recently returned from Africa has been diagnosed with Ebola. Medical officials say they have had the benefit of learning from mistakes in Dallas and are urging residents not to panic.

Airport screenings have begun in U.S. airports as well, and the CDC and White House have so far resisted the pressure to ban flights from West Africa.

Voting Rights

The Supreme Court has had a number of cases this term about laws that threaten voting rights. Ever since their 2013 ruling that gutted the enforcement of the1965 Voting Rights Act, it has been open season on voters in some parts of the country. No Tea Party-controlled legislature worth its salt missed the opportunity to pass a voter ID law, bar student voting, or otherwise try to limit the democratic franchise.

Some of those laws have made their way back to SCOTUS in the last weeks before the midterm elections. In an apparently contradictory flurry of rulings, the Supremes blocked voter-ID law in Wisconsin, blocked early voting in Ohio, and restored same-day voter registration in North Carolina.

Then there was Texas. The Roberts Court upheld the appellate court’s decision that restrictive voting laws in Texas were constitutional despite the fact they had been ruled intentionally discriminatory at trial, called an “unconstitutional poll tax” by the judge, and will disenfranchise an estimated 600,000 voters, largely blacks and Latinos.

The Nov 4, 2014 midterm elections should perhaps get an asterisk next to it:

*Millions barred from voting.

Elections

Which reminds us that the midterm election is just a little over a week away and speculation and spin has reached a fever pitch.

A few weeks ago it looked like there might be a chance the Democrats would buck all predictions and trends and hold the Senate. Mr. Daley himself even posited that an Independent Caucus might lead the Senate if neither the Dems nor the GOP can get to a majority on their own.

But the much-lauded FiveThirtyEight blog of Nate Silver gives the Republicans a 63.9 percent chance to win a majority in the Senate.

It might all come down to turn out, but more on that next week.

The Fight for Citizenship and the Right to a Future

The fight for fair and humane immigration reform is about respecting the dignity and humanity of all immigrants across the U.S. It is a fight for family unity. But this fight is also about the evolving definition of citizenship.

CitizenshipCitizenship is a guarantee against deportation; a protection against fear and reprisals. Any immigrant, regardless of status, can be deported – whether they are undocumented, a permanent resident with children who are U.S. citizens, or married to a U.S. citizen. Even a minor mistake on your application for citizenship can jeopardize your status in the country and launch you into deportation proceedings.

Providing a meaningful pathway to citizenship means guaranteeing a predictable route – and a future – for those who want to become citizens. To have citizenship in the U.S. means that you get to be a full human – with full rights. Being a citizen means that you can vote.

So let’s be blunt, voting is the real problem.
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ICAN’s Voter Registration Work Makes the News

NWFCO affiliate Idaho Community Action Network (ICAN) is part of a newly-formed coalition, the Canyon County Latino Voter Collaborative, working to educate and ensure that Latino community members register and vote, as well as participate in other activities such as advocacy. On a recent weekend in July, more than 30 young Latino community members participated in a two-day event organized by the coalition and the event garnered coverage by the local news. Read more