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The Republican Party tends to advocate for “race-blind” policies (like in this recent dismantling by Gov. Christie of an office to work with minority and women-owned businesses). Except, that is, once every ten years when it comes to redistricting when they start to talk a whole lot about diversity and the importance of race-based representation.
So perhaps they should be forgiven for being a bit out of practice on the facts. Like in today’s first meeting of the state’s Legislative Redistricting Commission. There, Republican Commissioner Irene Kim Asbury claimed that the African-American population in New Jersey had decreased in New Jersey since the last Census, thus inferring that African-American representation was less important than representation of growing Latino and Asian populations.
Only problem is – the comments have no basis in reality. More on that – and the broader story of redistricting strategy – below the fold.
It’s true that New Jersey’s Latino and Asian-American populations have been growing. But so has New Jersey’s African-American population – from 13.6 percent in 2000 to 14.5 percent in 2009. The only population group that has declined since the 2000 Census in New Jersey – in both absolute terms and percentage – is New Jersey’s white, non-Hispanic population.
One would hope that, if the Republicans on the Commission are so concerned about racial diversity, they would at least get their basic facts straight, instead of unfairly and inaccurately saying that New Jersey’s African-American community deserves less representation than in the past.
But that should only be the first clue as to what’s really going on here.
The second clue was a man standing in the back of the room at the hearing today, Ben Ginsberg, the Republicans’ high-powered DC lawyer that they have hired for the process. You may remember him from such cases as Bush v. Gore (on the Bush side). But more germane in the context of today’s discussion is his role in Project Ratf*ck.
Really, Project Ratf*ck – I am not making this up – you can read about it here. Ginsberg and comrades in the 1990s devised a strategy in which Republicans would reach out to groups representing minority voters and offer them a deal: we will draw you districts that are 70-80% minority in exchange for you supporting us drawing other districts that are 90%+ white (and majority Republican). These gerrymanders helped produced Republican majorities in many states. A good motivation to, once every ten years, pretend to care about our country’s continuing racial disparities and divisions.
Now, the Republicans – backed up by a secretive organization called The Center for a Better New Jersey – have brought in Ginsberg to try to do the same thing in New Jersey. But Asbury’s comments this morning may have tipped the hat a bit too much on the Republicans’ strategy. The idea is to use the Project Ratf*ck strategy on Latino and Asian-American groups – thus producing more lily-white districts in North Jersey in places like Northern Bergen and Western Essex. African-Americans appear to be an afterthought in the strategy.
Which sure doesn’t justify making up false claims that African-American power in New Jersey has declined.
Not much else of interest happened today. Democrats were pretty quiet, and the whole thing was over in 20 minutes. The first redistricting public hearing has been set for Saturday, January 29, at a location TBD, and more will follow in February – with some being after the neutral tiebreaker of the commission is appointed so he or she (presumably he because reportedly both parties have agreed on Prof. Alan Rosenthal of Rutgers’ Bloustein School) can hear public input.
It should be an interesting next few months.
PS You can listen to the hearing and Asbury’s comments here.