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Legislative Redistricting–Now and Then: A perspective from the inside

By Sen. Jabo Waggoner

As I listened to the ranting, raving and other histrionics coming from so many members of the Alabama Senate Democratic Caucus regarding the passage of the United States’ constitutionally required reapportionment plan for the next ten years, I was almost amused.

How quickly people who have controlled the legislature and the legislative reapportionment process for the last 140 years have forgotten how they openly used the process to keep down the election of Republican legislators.  In the midst of the shouting and charges of “racism”, I focused on the process following the 2000 Decennial Census.

At that time, Sen. Jeff Enfinger, (D-Huntsville), who was chosen by the Senate Democratic Caucus to put together “their” plan, was ensconced in a hotel room at the Whitley Hotel in downtown Montgomery. There were “consultants” hired, both with Caucus Foundation money and federal money which was given to the minority caucus in all state legislatures.

These consultants and Sen. Enfinger drew the senate districts, all thirty-five of them, to be used for the next ten years.  Sen. Enfinger was rather open as, in all things, with what he was doing and upon being specifically questioned as to who was being drawn out of their districts, he replied, “The only one we will probably take out is Sen. Callahan”.

And sure enough, Sen. George Callahan was placed in a district where his chances of being re-elected were very small.  On the floor of the senate when the plan was being debated Sen. Callahan offered an amendment which improved his position, ever so slightly, and Sen. Hank Sanders, who was handling the plan at that time, remember, Sen. Sanders has just been quoted as calling the current plan “racist, then offered Sen. Callahan a deal saying, “we will approve your amendment if you will agree to vote for the legislative reapportionment plan.”  Sen. Callahan, being an honorable man, said the plan in its entirety was not good for the state of Alabama, it was gerrymandered to the point of being unfair to many incumbent Republicans, and just to get his amendment passed to improve his position was not worth voting for such a partisan production.

Sen. Callahan’s amendment was voted down by the Democratic Majority.  Sen. Callahan was defeated in the very next election, as was planned, by the Democratic Majority.

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Knowing this, having lived through this I must confess, watching Senators Bedford, Sanders, Singleton, Smitherman, et. al., scream “racism” and how they had been “run over”, and how they were being “mistreated” and how their districts were being “gerrymandered”, really did not make much of an impression on me.

The Legislative Reapportionment Plan, by federal law, starts out with a mean number which is the exact division of thirty-five senators into the state’s population and then the Department of Justice allows a plus or minus five percent in order to meet other reapportionment necessities, such as communities of interest, county lines, etc.

In the 2000 plan, every single one of the black senate districts were at the 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent below the mean and every single Republican district was the exact opposite, being 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent above the mean, meaning that when I took office following the 2002 election I had between ten and fifteen thousand more people in my senate district than Sen. Sanders, Sen. Smitherman, and other Democrats had.  Their whole idea being to “pack” the Republicans in to larger population districts and allow the Democrat senators to spread into smaller population districts; thereby increasing the number of possible Democratic districts.

I have recounted this for one purpose and that purpose is that in the reapportioning process in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s. 2000, and now the 2010, the media never seemed to be concerned that certain Republican representatives and senators were being gerrymandered into packed districts or into districts where they had less of a chance of defeating a Democratic challenger. Why the media wasn’t concerned, I don’t know.  But, I do know that as soon as the charge of “racism” was made on the floor of the senate every single media outlet in the state lit up like a switchboard.

We could never charge racism and certainly racism was not a factor in the plan that has just been approved by the Alabama Legislature but it is a provocative sound-bite which is guaranteed to get editorials, newspaper articles and television interviews.

Please don’t think I am not aware that the Democrats will use every contact they have in Washington, in the Obama Administration, and their contacts with the Justice Department are many. They will attempt to get the Department of Justice to overrule and not approve the plan that has been presented. We are very much aware of that.

The point they will not be able to prove is what they’re using to give them so much attention and that is just because the black legislators have a total number of constituents closer to the mean number doesn’t mean there is racial gerrymandering going on and because “communities of interest” requires a couple of white incumbents to wind up in a race with a black Democrat doesn’t mean white Democrats are being gerrymandered for racial reasons.

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The Legislative Committee on Reapportionment did its due diligence holding 22 full scale public hearings around the state, was transparent and accountable through the whole process. No question in my mind, that the reapportionment process was fairly pursued and I know there will be at least one more black House District than currently exists. I also believe these charges of racism are designed to improve their chances of a Department of Justice refusal based on the Civil Rights law of the 1960’s.  Stay tuned.


Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader and Chair of the Senate Rules Committee

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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