When I worked in Washington State’s tall and uncut on the foot hills of Mt. Rainier we had a saying for the unbelievable or outlandish: “That takes the rag off the bush,” we would say, expecting that to end the conversation.
And so it is in Georgia where the GOP has gone to federal court to challenge the newly drawn map of congressional districts, charging that the new map discriminates against African American voters by “diluting” their voting strength. Now that takes the rag off the bush and stands as the ultimate example of hypocrisy on the part of those who wrote the book on hypocrisy, double talk and just plain meanness.
What’s really behind the sudden “concern” of the Georgia Republican Party is that congressional redistricting following the 2000 census gave Georgia two additional seats in the House of Representatives. The new map, which enjoys the support of every one of Georgia’s major African-American elected officials, may very flip the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation from the present 8-3 GOP majority to a 7-6 majority in favor of the Democrats, reason enough for Republicans to say, “That takes the rag off the bush.”
Think about it: does Rep. Jack Kingston, who enjoys a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, care about Black representation? What about Max Collins, he with only a 6 percent approval rating from the ACLU? Or Bob Barr, a lead hyena in the Clinton impeachment battle, who moved to another congressional district because he feared defeat in 2002 if he didn’t?
Compare their records with that of Cynthia McKinney’s 100 approval rating from American For Democratic Action or John Lewis’ 100 percent from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers – make that comparison and you will understand the what’s and why’s of the GOP challenge in Georgia.
But there’s even more reason for their concern: given changing voting patterns in Georgia, the new map, with its more equal distribution of African-American voters, may very well increase the number of African Americans in the Georgia delegation where all three of the present Democratic seats are held by African Americans. As they see it, that would really take the rag off the bush!
The new map leaves John Lewis with a district where 52 percent of the voting age population is African American, down considerably from the 63 percent under the 1990 map. Cynthia McKinney stayed about even at a few tenths of a percent over 50 percent. Both won reelection with overwhelming majorities: Lewis by more than 75 percent; McKinney by 61 percent. Sanford Bishop, the state’s third Black member of Congress, won by nearly 60 percent in a district where only 37 percent of the voting age population is African American. Thus a lesson from Georgia: African-American candidates do not not need to be ghettoized into “Black max” districts in order to win.
While reapportionment following the 1990 census resulted in the election of a record number of African Americans to the House of Representatives in 1992, there was a down side. By creating congressional districts where African Americans made up an overwhelming majority of voters, the “bleached” districts that this process created were fertile ground for the right wing assault led by Newt Gingrich that saw the 73 Republicans elected to the House of Representatives in 1994.
Georgia’s new map of congressional districts has created three districts where African Americans make up more than 35 percent of the voting age population, a large enough block upon which to anchor a progressive electoral challenge. In that regard, Georgians – and progressives everywhere – can take a page from the playbook used in this year’s New Jersey elections.
There, a coalition of African Americans, Latinos and whites shifted voters from heavily minority districts around Newark into adjacent, largely white, districts. The result was the first Democratic majority in the state assembly for a decade and an increase in the number of minority legislators.
The GOP challenge in Georgia – and similar battles in other states – are key fights in the national battle to break the right wing grip on Congress. A pick up of three seats there would be a giant stride in winning back control of the House, and with it, a better chance of reversing the programs and policies of the Bush administration.
That would really take the rag off the bush – no pun intended.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org