By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–In what was to be a losing battle, the House Democrats fought with tenacity to change the House map for Reapportionment.
“This plan for reapportionment will have to be pre-cleared before the U.S. Justice Department or the federal court before it will become valid” said Representative James E. Buskey (D-Mobile).
Under the federal Voting Rights Act, state governments with a history of discrimination must obtain approval from the Justice Department or from a federal court in Washington for changes in election procedures.
Late Monday afternoon, the six-hundred-plus page reapportionment bill passed the Alabama House of Representatives along party lines.
“I would like to see this plan go before the Department of Justice so I can officially appeal it and show why the plan should not be pre-cleared,” said Buskey. “Under this plan there is stacking and packing, they are packing black districts that are now at around 63 percent black and packing them so that they will be between 70 and 80 percent.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Politics, “Stacking” and “packing” are strategies which seeks to minimize the influence of those likely to vote for opponents. ‘Stacking’ occurs when boundaries are drawn so opponents are grouped in constituencies where they are a minority; ‘packing’ is when opponents are concentrated in a small number of constituencies. Members of the Alabama Black Caucus are concerned that the Republican-drawn map is just this type of Gerrymandering.
Co-Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said he had heard the term stacking and packing for the first time when he was Co-Chair of the committee that redrew the lines for Congressional Districts.
“I think that what they mean by stacking and packing is that somehow the districts are unfair or targeting groups,” said McClendon. “I will tell you we have targeted no groups.” McClendon continued by saying, “The plan is fair to everyone and will be shown to be in compliance with the Justice Department.”
McClendon says he is confident that the plan is in compliance with all federal guidelines and the Alabama State Constitution.
Buskey deeply disagrees with McClendon’s assessment saying that the Republican plan is clearly in violation of the Voting right Act.
Buskey says that when you place a very high majority of black voters within a district with a black legislator you limit the voters in that area from having influence.
Representative Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) says she that the Republican majority has not been open to any alternative plans that has been offered by the Democrats. “If you [like the Republicans] have taken a position that you will not take any amendments or any alternatives then it is sad to say, inevitable that it will end up in court,” said Coleman.
Coleman says in her district that the stacking and packing has raised her district from around 60 percent to almost 80.
“Quite frankly I am offended that blacks are being packed into African-American districts,” said Coleman. “The people in these district want to have influence across the state like everyone else.”
House minority leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) says that there will definitely be a lawsuit coming against what he considers unfair and racist reapportionment.”
“During the debate today we put into the record many of the things we needed to move forward with a lawsuit,” said Ford.
Ford, like Buskey and Coleman, was disappointed that the Republican-controlled House would yield no ground during the discussion or even consider alternative plans.
“Unless you are a Republican your voice is not heard in the State Legislature,” said Ford.
Ford said that the Democrats after fighting a good fight decided to open the floor for a vote.
“The republicans put votes on Medicaid and other important bills behind this one, so we did not offer an obstruction,” said Ford. “We knew they would win but we put up a good fight.”
Some in Ford’s party had wanted to have the entire bill read a process that would have taken up to 10 hours. Ford said he decided not to do that because making sure that Medicaid and other bill that helped Alabamian would not be delayed.
Ford says that the Republican map was draw with the intention of deluding the black vote in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The one thing that Democrats and Republicans agree upon is that the plan is headed for court.