Want districts to be fair? Draw squares

Published 3:11 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Ongoing debate on redistricting is causing a ruckus in the state and national government as state Congressmen work feverishly to redraw district lines to reflect changes in population trends demonstrated by the 2000 Census.
As U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, R-Ahsland, has made a decision to vacate his Third District seat so he can pursue occupancy of the Governor's Mansion, discriminating eyes have turned toward the seat that is currently considered to be a Republican stronghold.
Democrats want a seat that ensures that their candidate will win the seat which could go a long way toward altering the balance of power in the U.S. Capitol. With margins between Democrats and Republicans holding very thin in the house, a lot is at stake from a public policy position.
In order to force the seat to fall to a Democrat, some House Democrats including Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, Speaker of the House want to run the district into Montgomery County where 61,000 of 77,000 new voters in the district will be black.
This, obviously, would represent a direct threat to Republicans who have fared poorly at getting a significant share of the state's black vote.
Republicans aren't screaming as much. They say they're willing to allow for a more plausible election that would put a few more Democrats than Republicans in the district among the folks that are added, though the numbers will still show a semi-Republican district.
I can't decide where to direct my frustration over this issue.
It seems to me that the politicians of this state are more interested in deciding who they want to be elected and forcing the district to fit the candidate than they are at drawing squares based on population totals.
I don't understand the depth and complexity of drawing districts, but it seems to me that the easiest thing to do would be to draw squares based on population totals and let the chips fall where they may. But doing that would require having guts and being willing to take risks.
Some politicians would squawk that their candidate was denied a far chance from the beginning. Others would argue racial bias. There are numerous reasons that people would object to the lines.
So we play politics by deciding whom we want so we can draw the right line to get the person in office.
We can do far better.
In times of crisis, for better or for worse, Alabama falls back into the trap that it has been falling into for three hundred years racism.
Whether it's drawing lines to intentionally see to it that black residents are denied representation in government, or it's drawing lines to get black Alabamians into certain districts to protect a party's majority, we continue to play race at every opportunity.
And it's downright unacceptable.
Where we once pointed to people like Governor George Wallace, we can see that his place has been taken by a number of different people, including those of opposite races like Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma who continues to play the race card at home and in the state.
Sanders has made a career out of cashing in on oppression just as Wallace made a career of cashing in on prejudice.
We have got to get out of this line of thinking if we plan to protect the future of our state. Instead of seeing things in terms of the traditional black and white Alabama, we need to look ahead to a united future where we all live together.
These plans to "guarantee" that district lines are 60 percent Democratic are a travesty to our national right to fair representation because they, in essence, guarantee that the Republican voice will not be heard, just as other plans do that go the other way. This insanity needs to end.
It's time that it stopped and that we work together to move ahead.
Our self-absorbed politicians need to get on with life and get back to drawing squares.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Atmore Advance. Contact him at 368-2123 or e-mail him at brian.blackley@atmoreadvance.com.

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