|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Imagine the scene on December 21, 2010
Officials of both major political parties waited impatiently as the minutes ticked far too slowly for Republicans and Democrats alike. They were awaiting the delivery of the pivotal report of the Census Bureau. Released every 10 years, this report contains crucial population information that determines just what percentage of federal funds for every project the states get... the number of representatives for each state in the federal House of Representatives... and the number of electoral votes each state casts for president.
The stakes for politicians and their parties couldn't be higher, and one sensed the tension as they waited. There was palpable anxiety and sweaty palms in both party headquarters... for no one in the nation understood better than these Tadpoles and Tapers what was happening and what it would mean -- positive and negative -- for them.
Within minutes of report arrival, these expert crystal ball readers had hard numbers to work with. The broad outlines of the game ahead began to emerge as these practiced number crunchers commenced work at the core of America's political establishment, work vital to every politician, little noticed or understood by the average (woefully uninformed) citizen.
The game begins
The Census Bureau's numbers, as stated above, determine how many seats each state is entitled to in the national House of Representatives.
In the current report, two states are big winners and two states are big losers. Texas, now at the pinnacle of its steadily expanding power, gains 4 seats; Florida's sun- drenched growth also continues apace, now entitled to 2 more seats.
On the flip side, both New York and Ohio lose two seats each.
6 states -- South Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Washington state add 1 representative each.
8 states -- Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Louisiana, lose 1 representative each.
The theory, the reality
Once state politicians know the task (in Texas' case to add 4 seats), the game becomes acutely, unabashedly political, often ending in bare knuckle brawling. Remember, the stakes could not be higher.
In theory, per order and guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court, districts are to be drawn up with equity and equality solely in mind. The word "fairness" is much employed.
In reality, while giving judicious lip service to the justices directives, politicians immediately set to work with a will, determined to deliver the most seats (and benefits) to themselves while happily dishing their opponents. After all, to the victors belong the spoils, whatever the Supreme Court may think, (though this sentiment is never uttered publicly.)
This is a great American game and tradition, with every politician involved saying one thing openly and quite another behind closed doors. To watch this is to understand how politicians really think and work. It is the best and most useful civics lesson of all.
"All politics is local."
This famous phrase was uttered by the late Representative Thomas O'Neill (D-Massachusetts), sometime Speaker of the House of Representatives. He knew whereof he spoke, and no where is this more true than in the matter of implementing the district changes necessitated by the U.S. census. Let's look at just one of the affected states, Massachusetts.
Massachusetts, father of (more) presidential candidates and (occasional) presidents, will lose yet another seat. 100 years ago this Commonwealth had 16 House seats. As a result of this census, the number will drop to 9. Since all Congresspersons from this state are Democrats, this most likely means a permanent reduction of one in potential Democratic seats and a rise of 1 in potential Republican seats.
This is of the utmost importance, because the census data make clear that the states losing seats are overwhelmingly Democratic... while the states gaining seats are comfortably Republican. Thus these changes, helped along by more GOP governors and state legislators from the massive Republican victory of November, 2010, move appreciably towards the Republican objective of a permanent, structurally based majority with nothing the Democrats can do about it. This is what the census numbers suggest and why Republicans are so jubilant as they read them. They see, with reason, a nation happily and permanently Republican, the only exceptions being those interregna brought about by GOP embarrassments, missteps and goofs... all of which are theirs from time to time.
However, to (potentially) confound GOP exuberance and (potentially) save the Democrats' bacon there are the Hispanics, America's fastest-growing ethnic group. As all the political types know, these hold the key to American politics. Thus both parties are engaged in strenuous outreach to Hispanics, outreach which will inevitably be increased to match its importance and historic consequences.
Here the Democrats currently lead but not overwhelmingly so. Republicans, already popular with Cuban-Americans, have every chance to improve their standing with other crucial Hispanic constituencies. And they will do so, in my humble opinion, by becoming the first major party to put an Hispanic on the ticket, as vice president. You read it here first. Viva!
And what of once golden California, the dream of determined pioneers
No report on the 2010 census would be complete without a few words, but only a few, on the once golden state of California. For the first time in decades, California gains no seat, thus indicating that the great days of growth are gone forever. The golden gate has shifted Florida and Texas way, and they are glad to seize the palm -- and crow. Perhaps it is fitting that the census report arrived in the midst of torrential, constant, unused to (much complained about) California rains, as if the very gods above wept for the end to a great American dream, obliterating its proverbial sunshine.
And so the census has arrived.
Let the (inevitable) games begin... with fervor,craft, masterful lies and dissemblings, hard work and deceit. It will all be most amusing, this set piece of American politics and democracy. I can't wait to see how this cookie crumbles.