Creating a Black District

June 09, 1991

Because amendments to the Voting Rights Act and court rulings suggest that states that can create new congressional districts with a majority of minority voters should do so, there is pressure in Maryland and elsewhere to search for ways to accomplish it. Here it would be the Fifth District, largely Prince George's County, that would be recontoured to elect a black candidate. In its present boundaries, the Fifth is about 44 percent black.

The Maryland Republican Party has produced a redistricting map in which the Fifth would be 56 percent black. This is about as "black" as the district could be, if the party's computer analysis of contiguous precincts in other districts is correct. Republicans want a black district because they believe that by "packing" blacks, who tend to bloc-vote for Democratic congressional candidates, into a single district, they increase the chance of electing Republican candidates next door. Politics is politics. We understand this. We do not understand the reported decision of some of Maryland's Democratic Party leaders to play the same game.

It is not in the best interest of traditional Democrats -- black or white -- to trade two white Democratic representatives for one black Democrat and one white Republican. For example, the Republican map would create a black Fifth District in part by reducing blacks in the Fourth from 24 percent to 15 percent. That could lead to replacing Rep. Tom McMillen, who voted for the Democratic civil rights bill last Wednesday, with a Republican who would vote against such a measure.

There are reports that Democratic officials are considering a redistricting plan that would create a black Fifth District by putting Representative McMillen into a new district dominated by the First. The favorite in a 1992 contest in such a district would be Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Republican who voted against the civil right bill.

Black Democrats, of course, want to see more blacks in Congress. White Democrats should want that, too. Politics depends on loyalty, and no voting bloc has been more loyal to the party than blacks. But this is tricky, even dangerous, terrain. White working class voters, the elderly poor and other elements in the Democratic coalition have special social and economic needs that have usually been better served by Democratic programs than Republican ones. If those voters are given reason to believe the party's leaders are willing to give up reliable votes in the House of Representatives for those programs in order to reward black voters and politicians, the Democratic Party could lose the support of these loyal white supporters.

Even if that defection were not to occur, redistricting thareplaced any significant number -- 10 or 12 -- of Democratic representatives with Republicans could create a veto-override-proof House for Republican presidents. That would doom many Democratic social and economic programs.

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