By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
I was troubled – though not surprised – to read several factual errors and misleading statements in Rep. Jim McClendon’s recent op-ed responding to our Caucus’s announcement that we would not seek a temporary retraining order in state court against the new state legislative redistricting plans.
The first of these factual errors Rep. McClendon states is that he met with every member of the House of Representatives. Several House Democrats, never met with Rep. McClendon, even though many of them attempted to schedule an appointment.
The second factual error Rep. McClendon made was his statement that “under the newly proposed House plan, there will be an increase in the number of districts where the majority of the voters are black.”
Currently, there are 27 districts that are represented by black legislators in the House. However, a 28th district, district 54 in Jefferson County, is a majority black district that is represented by Rep. Patricia Todd, who is white.
The new legislative districts Rep. McClendon drew have 28 majority-minority districts, so the number has not changed. So this claim, which Rep. McClendon wrote was the “most important statement,” is in fact not true.
Rep. McClendon was also misleading in his editorial when he wrote about the efforts that he made to have public involvement in the redistricting process. Rep. McClendon claims he hosted 22 public meetings on redistricting across the state. But the new redistricting maps were not even presented to the reapportionment committee until 10 minutes before the committee voted on them and only 12 days before the House voted to adopt them. Unless those 22 public meetings happened between May 9th and May 21st, then the public did not get to see the maps that will dictate who represents them for the next 10 years.
The truth is that the redistricting plans Rep. McClendon and the Republican Supermajority forced through the legislature diminish the value of thousands of Alabamians’ votes. By unnecessarily splitting counties, the McClendon plans diminish the influence voters in those counties will have on their representatives. Their representatives will have to balance their needs like a teacher who has to balance the needs of additional students in their class.
The McClendon plan also diminishes the value of African American voters by packing them into minority-majority districts and taking them out of “influence districts.” An influence district is a district where African Americans may be a minority, but they make up a large enough percentage to influence the outcome of an election.
Take, for example, Rep. Alan Harper’s district. Rep. Harper, who switched parties earlier this year, represents a district that has historically supported Democrats. Currently, his district is about 30 percent African American. But the McClendon redistricting plans reduce that number to a little over 18 percent, making it much more difficult for African Americans to have an impact in the next election.
Rep. McClendon has a right to defend his redistricting plans. But he does not have the right to make up his own facts.