I had promised myself I’d stay away from political blogging during the holiday season-–but there’s one recent development I just can’t refrain from writing about. This was one of the reasons I retired—more time for politics. So here goes: my last political post until after Jan. 1.
Thanks to Azavea, the web-based software design firm that developed the Redistricting the Nation project, we now have the demographics of the old and new Pennsylvania congressional districts.
The first congressional district, represented by Bob Brady, has the most dramatic change in racial composition of any of the state's 19 congressional districts. Brady's district is currently 31.8% White and 48.0% black. His new district will be 46.9% white and 35.5% black. (The Asian and Latino percentages have changed very little.)
Across the state, most of the changes in racial composition were relatively small—generally no more than a few percentage points. The only other district which had significant change was the 14th congressional district, which contains the entire city of Pittsburgh. In the 14th, the percentage of white voters was 69.4% % in the old district, 77.37% in the new; the percentage of black voters was 24.5% in the old district, 16.53% in the new. The shift in racial composition in the 14th is not as dramatic as in the first congressional district and it does not change the racial dynamics of the race. The 14th district was and remains a district which favors the election of a white candidate. The first district has gone from a district which was very favorable terrain for a black candidate to one in which a black candidate would be significantly less competitive.
News reports suggested that Brady may have had something to do with this. Cris Brennan reported in the Daily News on 8/20/11:
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee in Philadelphia, says that one hot rumor circulating in Harrisburg about his 1st Congressional District is way off the mark.
The rumor: Brady offers a weak Democratic candidate for a special election for the state House's 169th District in Northeast Philly if the Republicans controlling the General Assembly and redistricting redraw his district in a fashion he favors…
Republican and Democratic sources in Harrisburg confirm that the rumor about Brady seeking a deal is swirling.
One senior Democratic source put it this way: "Every House Democratic leader is extremely frustrated that you have the leader of the Philadelphia Democratic Party attempting to sell out a Democratic seat just to help himself."
Doron Taussig in the "It's our Money Blog" reported on 12/19/11:
John Micek, Capitolwire reports on U.S.Rep. Bob Brady’s efforts to get the state’s current congressional redistricting plan passed. The report says Brady got State Sen. Tina Tartaglione to cast a key vote to get the new map out of committee, and that the congressman is now trying to drum up support for the plan among Philly’s state House delegation.
Brady is doing this, Capitolwire says, in spite of the fact that the congressional redistricting plan “masses the largest number of urban Democratic voters into the smallest number of districts.”
Why would Brady do such a thing? Isn’t he Mr. Democrat? Maybe, but the proposed map isn’t nearly as bad for Brady as it is for Democrats generally: “it let(s) him shoot up the Delaware River to capture more capture more white Democrats, giving him some protection against future black primary challengers.”
Did the Democratic Party Chair push for something so contrary to the interests of his party just to insure that he had a district with more white voters? Most political folks I know think Brady could have been beaten by a well-known, well-funded black challenger in the old district with 48.0% black voters. It will be significantly more difficult with 35.5% black voters. Brady now has a district which will make it a lot harder for an African-American challenger for the foreseeable future, as the new boundaries are good for 10 years.
Could a shift in the racial demographics this dramatic (compared to other districts) be in violation of the voting rights act? The demographic shift in the first congressional district certainly decreases the likelihood of another African-American congressional representative in Pennsylvania. Although more voters are crossing racial and ethnic lines in voting—particularly in high profile races like the presidency and governorships—voters are much more likely to vote for someone who looks like them in down ballot races.
I expected that the Republicans would use their control of the redistricting process to gerrymander their way to increased representation. I did not expect the Chair of the Philadelphia Democratic Party to work with Republicans to guarantee himself a district which would be less competitive for an African-American challenger. Of course, given that redistricting is not an open, transparent process, we well never know for certain if this was the case. There is no smoking gun. But there sure is evidence pointing in that direction.