Scholar Deciphers Census Data, Political Climate After Reapportionment

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by Reginald Stuart

When the Census Bureau begins cranking out more official results this winter of the 2010 decennial census, political scientist Robert A. Holmes will be poring over the data to see what it portends for Blacks and other minorities and how they can use it to sustain political momentum in this decade.

So far, the landscape doesn’t look good, says Holmes, a veteran educator who spent more than 30 years at the graduate school of Clark Atlanta University before retiring in 2008. Holmes, who also served in the Georgia Legislature for 34 years, is the author of numerous papers on voting rights and minority participation and is a consultant for National Popular Vote, the election reform campaign.

Holmes says higher education leaders should be bracing for the second blow of a one-two punch that is likely to rattle the higher education hopes of minorities and the poor in ways not felt for years.

Holmes advises higher education leaders — still reeling from a historic economic slide — to prepare for the eventual loss of traditional allies as Census results trigger the reapportionment of political boundaries. Governors and state Legislatures could redraw boundaries in ways that will dilute, if not outright eliminate, the ranks of higher education supporters from the Legislatures, U.S. House of Representatives, and, eventually, local officials and governing boards, he says.

“Redistricting based on the 2010 Census will have a direct negative impact and have a disproportionate impact on funding for HBCUs” and other minority serving institutions, says Holmes, who has consulted with social policy groups and aspiring Black politicians through the past three political reapportionment periods, in 1980, 1990 and 2000.

“We won’t have the folks on (legislative) committees making the deals,” when higher education funding issues come up for vote, says Holmes. Instead, a new crop of Republican-leaning lawmakers will be inclined to use the economy as a rationale for targeting social programs aimed at minorities and the poor.

Holmes expects that six to 12 traditionally “safe” congressional districts for Black politicians will be redrawn in a manner that weakens the ability of voters to elect a Black politician without significant White support. Many such districts for Blacks, other minorities and liberal White lawmakers in state house and Senate districts are likely to be eliminated by the new, more conservative state legislatures, he says.

In the past, Democratic governors often exerted their influence to preserve minority-dominated voting districts. Holmes says reapportionment will create a surge in the number of states that will have Republican governors, which will likely translate into legislative districts where more “people are going to be less liberal in voting for Blacks. It’s going to have almost a snowball effect.”

His group, National Popular Vote, is urging states to adopt election processes such as multi-member districts and cumulative voting rules to protect the political franchise of all Americans.

“We are one of the few countries that use single member districts,” says Holmes, referring to the election of one person to represent a political district, regardless of its makeup. Other countries he and his colleagues have worked with have been persuaded to adopt alternative election systems in which representation of a district is held by several people whose election from a particular district is based on a variety of demographic considerations.

“The major role I hope to play is convincing (people) that the old method of single member districts won’t work and to get them to think out of the box,” Holmes says.

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