THE CONNECTIONS TOO MANY ELECTED OFFICIALS FAIL TO MAKE: AND THAT INCLUDES GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO.
Every ten years in the good old USA (United States of Amnesia), you can expect a big political fight over reapportionment. That’s when the lines for legislative districts are redrawn based on population growth (or decrease) and demographic shifts. This usually happens after the constitutionally mandated nationwide census-count.
You would think that after roughly 23 census-counts, we in this country would have found -by now- a less contentious way of dealing with the reapportionment/redistricting process; but no. As time goes by, it seems to get worse. And with self-destructive, self-centered, self-absorbed narcissists (selfish elected- officials) dominating the process, what do you really expect?
Every ten years we the people end up in state and federal courts -all over the country- fighting over issues this process raises and exposes. If it isn’t about gerrymandering, it’s about incumbency protection. If it isn’t about political parties protecting their turfs, it’s about destroying traditional contiguous communities/borders. If it isn’t about vote-splitting along racial, religious, ethnic or nationalistic lines, it’s about perceptions of injustice and power abuse. There are even more reasons why we get into these perpetual political fisticuffs: reasons that are too numerous to list here right now.
As I write this column, there isn’t a single black member of the US senate. In that body there are only seventeen women there out of one hundred members; meanwhile females outnumber males in this country by probably close to ten million -based on reasonable projections/estimates. It means that women are at least three times under-represented relative to what would be their natural share given the census mechanisms.
Non-Hispanic whites make up roughly 62 per of this country but around ninety per cent of the Congress; which means that minorities (non-whites) make up around 10 per cent of Congress though they make up more than one third of the residents of this country. When you look at the combined numbers of all state legislatures you will find that whites dominate the legislative process no end. And this is only the beginning of where many things go wrong in the polity.
If you look at the judicial system you find similar numbers. The US Supreme Court has seen 112 people seated on it since the US Constitution was ratified. There have been only four women: President Barack Obama appointed two of them in his first two years in office (one of whom was the first Hispanic ever appointed). There have been only two blacks: both male. There have been no black-Hispanics/Latinos, Asians (of any ilk), nor any native-Americans on the bench. There have been 106 white males: that’s over ninety per cent folks.
Many whites wonder why blacks and Latinos perceive the whole justice system to be inherently flawed; there is a simple explanation: minorities don’t see enough of themselves being reflected in decision-making bodies all over the political, cultural, educational, social and economic spectrum. Similarly, they don’t feel there is sufficient representation in all three branches (and at all three levels) of government.
Of the 50 states in the Union there is only one with an elected black governor (Massachusetts). There is one Asian (female) governor. Most state legislatures are predominantly white and male. The only place you could really find some diversity is at the local level of government. Remember that roughly one in every six US citizens happen to be black (once you filter in black-Hispanics).
At a time when this country needs to reflect its true diversity based on a 235-year political evolution, political-Neanderthals use the redistricting process to set the clocks back. They try to find all sorts of cunning ways to maintain the racial, ethnic, nationalistic and religious disparities. It is politically unhealthy. It is quite troublesome. It runs counter to the ideals of fairness, equality and justice. It hurts the aspirations for respect, inclusion and empowerment of minorities in this country.
In New York State, non-Hispanic white males make up just a little over a quarter of the population; and yet they take up almost three quarters of the elected spots when you include governor, lieutenant- governor, comptroller and attorney general. Is it any wonder that almost 90 per cent of all contracts awarded to firms doing business with state, city and local governmental entities, go to companies owned and/or controlled by white males? And when you project this nationwide the disparity gets even wider and deeper.
Is it any wonder why there are income disparities all across this land? The disadvantages start at the legislative branch. The people who make big decisions with the purse-strings hold the power in their hands. The people who make big decisions relative to public policy hold the others captive. Wall Street, Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Washington’s K-Street, are just subsidiary (and ancillary) to the structural inequities inherent in the overall socio-politico-economic system.
In study after study after study; for years upon years upon years; you find racism and discrimination in banking, housing, education, employment, economic development, government, media, advertising, marketing, communications, business, health care, et al and etcetera. The legislative process helps these evils flourish. This is where it all starts. This could be the beginning of where it ends.
Here is the main point to all this. The racial, ethnic, nationalistic and religious diversity reflected in legislatures don’t just accidentally get there; nor do they naturally evolve to such an outcome. There has to be a commitment on the part of map makers to creating diverse legislative bodies. A diverse legislative body bodes well -in the long run- for the polity as a whole.
If mapmakers deliberately draw lines in a way that minimizes or dilutes the potential political power of certain racial, ethnic, nationalistic and religious groups then they are doing us all an injustice. The fact of the matter is this: people vote for many strange reasons. Not every voter is a rational-actor-model. Not every voter votes for the candidate best qualified academically and in terms of experience. Not every voter votes for the person most knowledgeable on the issues of the day. Not every voter votes for the candidate offering the best vision for the district (or position). The reasons some voters proffer as to why they voted for certain candidates, can often be objectively deemed ridiculous and frivolous; but it is their right: and we have to respect that right even while striving to create a better voter-model; of course through civic engagements, political education, community-activism and such.
The truth is this: most people vote along racial, ethnic, religious and nationalistic lines more so than along any of the other the lines I just clarified/defined. This seems to be a reality that eludes folks like former Bronx assemblyman Michael Benjamin and others who seem not to fully understand the need for a “Voting Rights Act” and other legislative protections.
Left alone to people’s consciences and morality, history shows us that there are folks who would go to extraordinary lengths to deny others the right to cast their vote. Thus laws like the Voting Rights Act(s) and/or Civil Rights Act(s) are meant to protect everyone’s basic right to express their voting choice(s); along with freedom of speech, assembly, movement and such.
In every society there are those who mean democracy no good. With that as a basic understanding, the polity must protect some from their own stupid selfish devices (poll-tax, literacy tests, property-ownership, etc.); in order to insure (and ensure)that the will of the people -who take the opportunity to show up to vote in elections- is best expressed.
There are those who feel voting should only be for the educated class. Some act as though they feel only rich people should vote -since poor people are inherently inferior. Others feel it should be for the home-owner class. And others still would love for voters to be only those who believe and think like them: those who share their race, habits, heritage, values and tastes. But that’s not democracy. Democracy is messy; just like life is for most ordinary folks.
Democracy is an experiment whereby we give everyone qualified, the right to have a say in who runs government, and an input into selecting who passes the laws and makes public policy decisions etcetera. No matter what the reason is for choosing, the paramount thing is the right to choose to vote.
I don’t feel the need here to list the many extravagant measures used in the past to deny others the right to vote: any decent history book offers up that information. Note that there are still many obnoxious rules being drawn up every day in state legislatures nationwide, whereby republicans try to suppress true democracy via voter-repression laws. Republicans appear to be terrified by the voting potential of minorities in this country. I wonder why?
If some nefarious individuals cannot get at the right to vote the next best thing is to attack the map- making process in order to get some type of advantage. Thus around census time we see folks resorting to chicanery in the redistricting process: always looking for an edge.
Before there are legislatures there are legislative-lines. Remember this before you start thinking deeply about this issue. If these lines aren’t “tweaked” to help certain groups in little ways, the eventual body will never reflect the racial ethnic, nationalistic and religious diversity of the polity. This is generally compounded by the fact that minority communities are generally subsumed by majority ones.
If we are looking for balance, then mapmakers should outline their diversity goals before even hitting the drawing board. And they should do this while simultaneously rationalizing their decisions for maintaining geographic set ups and historical (traditional) arrangements. Just as they should outline their geographic goals relative to boundaries, contiguity, landmarks and historical traditions, they should also use the census results as a blueprint for diversity, inclusion, respect, variety, empowerment and the like. Input in legislative affairs/decisions should be treated as a right for all peoples in the polity.
It is illegal and immoral to draw lines in such a way that deliberately dilutes the chances for electing a group of any ilk in order to maintain the status quo. Thus what they have done with the new lines which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed off on in the New York State legislature is sickening. Andrew Cuomo should be tarred and feathered. He showed no respect for empowerment and inclusion. He showed no respect for the political aspirations of minorities in this state.
Now what do I mean by “tweak”? Studies have shown that if you want to elect someone of a certain ilk the best way to go about it is to stack a district with a significant number of voters of this ilk. It is that simple. The chances of obtaining a desired result increase exponentially the more you stack. This is why you find so many whites in state legislatures. Their natural population share enables them to be competitive anytime a legislative district has at least 25 to 33 per cent white voters; especially when there are splits along other racial, nationalistic, religious or ethnic lines, in the remaining population. Do the math while doing retrospection. Look at the results over the past two centuries. White-majority districts have only been won by minorities twice over that time.
In the 42nd assembly district in Brooklyn, the white population is only 12 per cent, and yet the white representative has been there for 34 years. This is not illegal, but it surely limits an opportunity for the political advancement of minorities. In Brooklyn’s 20 SD, Marty Markowitz represented for two decades: a minority-majority seat. The guy was great at public relations but horrible at legislation. He never authored one bill that passed in his 20 year tenure; so even his most fervent supporters cannot argue that he was some prolific legislator.
Now let me be very clear here: my arguments for “tweaking” district lines in no way means I am against someone living in the district -and not of the majority ilk- running at ANYTIME to represent said district. That is an unqualified democratic right. All I am saying is that the best way to attain diversity in various legislatures is to aid the desired end-result via map-construction and (yes) some manipulation.
Last week NY governor Andrew Cuomo made some deals with white law makers in Albany, totally oblivious to the consolidated pleas of minorities in the legislature. He displayed an insensitivity similar to what his father (Mario) showed when building as many jail cells as school-classes during his tenure as governor of the Empire state.
Andrew Cuomo signed on to the horrible redistricting lines knowing its flaws. How can the governor intellectually excuse the fact that another new senate seat was drawn in upstate republican strongholds, when upstate has been hemorrhaging population for decades? Andrew Cuomo is just another opportunist politician with no moral compass. He is ambitious and cagey. He has no backbone; no spine. He is just driven by personal ambition and hubris.
How quickly we forget (“Vote for Cuomo and not the Homo”) his true character because he opportunistically ushered in the same-sex marriage legislation -way after others had done all the dirty work and heavy lifting in the legislature and on the avenues of public opinion. If he continues to act like he has been in his first two years in office he will not be suited for the US presidency in my estimation. I will continue to keep my eyes on him and write about him. My suspicions after years of observation are that Andrew Cuomo is a fraud, a snob, a political dilettante, and a user. If he had real character he would have never challenged Carl McCall in 2002; so are we surprised now that he shows no minority-sensitivity.
I guess we blacks are meant to take the fact that he gave big-salaried jobs to Darryl Towns, Kevin Wardally, Yvonne Graham, and a few other blacks (some over-qualified/ others not qualified at all), is meant to suggest he has our collective backs: BULLSHIT!
All it means is that some individual blacks get paid well while most of the rest of us just have to deal with the metastasizing black community as best as we can. There are no policy-prescriptions emerging from Cuomo’s administration, relative to dealing with the metastasizing black community.
Andrew Cuomo isn’t about political reform or social-transformation. I doubt he is for electoral reform to make the process fairer, more inclusive and accessible. It is left to be seen if he is a true friend of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. By signing off on these maps Cuomo has shown us that he is more about expediency than fairness. He is more about his legislative legacy than about social and political justice. He is more about system-maintenance than inclusion, empowerment and respect.
Here is a constructive critique of the recent maps the state legislature adopted. I have to credit most of this stuff developed here to Howard Gatemouth and Todd Briebart. Between Gatemouth and Todd we probably saw the best analysis of the redistricting process in ages. Here, they offer an analysis of the Senate Plan in Bill No. S6696, introduced on March 11, 2012:
The Senate Redistricting Plan in Bill S6696: A description and evaluation of the S6696 Senate Plan (do note that maps can be drawn up to demonstrate and illustrate -via geography and demographic tables/charts- the systematic splitting of African-American and Latino communities in Long Island over five decades. The nine Long Island districts in the S6696 Senate Plan are identical to those proposed on January 26 in Senate Bill No: 6966, and offers no significant improvement over the egregiously flawed proposal first released then).
The S6696 Senate Plan:
1. Gives New York City one Senate district less than its share relative to what dividing the total population calls for.
2. Gives the upstate region one Senate district (actually one and one-seventh) more than its share of the total state population calls for.
3. Continues the systematic splitting of African-American and Latino communities in Long Island -for what would now be a full half-century.
4. Creates only two Senate districts in the Bronx and northern Manhattan where Latino voters will be in the majority, instead of the four or five such districts that would be created if New York City received its proper apportionment of districts and if respect were shown for the NYS constitutional rules on compactness and limiting the division of counties.
5. Divides Rochester among three districts, preventing the voters of that city from having a significant voice in the election of any one senator, and splitting up the African-American and Latino communities in particular.
6. Severs the connection between the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, which had previously formed the first district in New York where a white-majority electorate chose a black candidate for its state senator.
7. Divides many more counties than necessary, practically erasing county boundaries as a basis for drawing districts, in contravention the NYS constitutional rule that division of counties be minimized.
8. Creates many wildly non-compact districts, in violation the compactness rule of the NYS constitution.
9. Departs from constitutional precedent to increase the Senate from 62 to 63 seats – providing the “wiggle room” for the mal-apportionment of districts between upstate, downstate and the 5 boroughs of NYC.
Briebart further reports that it is sad to see that his previous detailed criticism of the preliminary plan can now be applied to Senate Bill No. 6696 with hardly any revision.
And yet, the governor signed off on this ignominy. So too did Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver (D) and the republican majority leader Dean Skelos. Of course the senate conference leader (state senator John Sampson/D) led a walkout of his members in protest. In the assembly Karim Camara -leader of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Caucus- also led a vote against the adoption of both senate and assembly lines. Both moves by Sampson and Camara were unsuccessful however: so now these unfair lines are final unless the court intervenes.
For decades now, what has been routinely done between democrats controlling the assembly, and republicans controlling the senate, is something of an accommodation in order to maintain the status quo. What is done routinely between senate and assembly is to draw seats in a certain significant way as to circumvent/defy the equal protection clause. Upstate senate seats are anywhere between three and four percentage points lower in population than those drawn downstate. Downstate assembly lines are similarly situated. Andrew Cuomo knows this.
We as a people must demand better of our leaders relative to their decision-making and their morality. Aren’t we tired of seeing corrupt electeds carted off to prison? You can peep into their mind-sets by scrutinizing their decisions and position-take(s). Let’s keep a sharp eye on Andrew Cuomo folks.
I can add to Briebart’s critique some other observations. In all five boroughs map makers can create seats conducive to a minority-prospectus. In the 59th AD (Carnarsie) for example, they could have added a few more black voters and make this seat very competitive but they didn’t. Instead they chose to furnish about forty per cent black voters to the neighboring district (white elected/41AD). They refuse to aid the political ambitions of minorities because they don’t particularly care to get into power-sharing arrangements.
Consider what I raised in a previous column on this issue: not as single member of the map-drawing panel was Black, Asian or Hispanic. I leave it up to you the reader to conclude whether or not this is just a continuation of the systematic racism engulfed and entrenched in every fabric of American (including New York) life.
And where is the Obama justice Department in all this? They are at the same place they disappeared too when Bill Thompson was challenging Mayor Bloomberg’s illegal and immoral third term reelection bid. They took a powder then and they are taking another one now. They don’t give a “flying fig”.
Let me end this piece by stating emphatically that political map-making is no easy job. It’s even more complicated when there are areas of extensive racial, ethnic, nationalistic and religious diversity. Demands for inclusion and empowerment are natural when this situation arises. If not for folks like Esmeralda Simmons in Brooklyn (and a few others), blacks would have even less seats drawn wherein they can be relatively competitive (or even hold an edge). These folks should be lauded for their courage fighting against major odds. Some of them have been waging these battles for decades: they are silent heroes and sheroes.
Stay tuned-in folks; although I must admit that writing these columns have become rather tiresome and painful. It seems that the older I get, the angrier I get.