Eric Holder launches unprecedented national Democratic redistricting effort

Redistricting Reform: Former Attorney General Eric Holder formally launched a new redistricting reform effort backed by key party leaders called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The NDRC aims to deploy an entirely new level of resources to prevent Republicans from obtaining the same systematic advantage in congressional and state legislative redistricting following the 2020 census, which the GOP used after 2010 to lock Democrats out of power in Congress and legislative chambers across the country.

Just as Daily Kos Elections itself has proposed, the NDRC plans a multi-step strategy of targeting critical gubernatorial and state legislative races in order to break Republicans’ grip on key state governments. These plans significantly include waging court challenges and using ballot initiatives to directly reform redistricting laws, both of which have often been badly underfinanced.

Combined with President Obama’s plans to reportedly make redistricting a major focus after he leaves office, and former DCCC chair Steve Israel’s recently joining the Democratic Governors Association’s “Unrig the Map” project, Holder’s leadership of the NDRC indicates that national Democrats are dead serious about helping to cure America’s GOP gerrymandering epidemic. That marks a major turnaround from the 2010s redistricting cycle, when Democrats had no national organization comparable to the GOP’s REDMAP project, which Republicans enacted with devastating effectiveness. You can find out more about how you can support the NDRC by visiting their website. They’re also on Twitter and Facebook.

Voting Rights Act

Texas: A federal district court recently tuled that the Houston suburb of Pasadena intentionally discriminated against Latinos in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment when it turned two of its eight single-member city council seats into at-large districts in 2013, ordering the city of 154,000 to revert back to its previous districts for the 2017 elections. As The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg covered in a 2015 exposé on the systematic attack on Latino voting rights in America that focused on Pasadena, at-large districts have long been an instrumental strategy for white politicians to dilute the power of minority voters.

For Pasadena, this meant replacing two council districts, one of which could have elected the candidate whom Latinos preferred, with two at-large seats, neither of which likely could. Such a move flagrantly diluted the voting strength of the city’s growing Latino population in violation of Section 2 of the VRA, which requires mapmakers to draw relatively compact districts that can elect minority voters’ candidates of choice when voting typically breaks down along racially polarized lines. White officials in Pasadena enacted their new plan precisely because they feared that Latino-favored candidates could have otherwise gained a majority in 2015.

This ruling was a resounding victory for voting rights because it marked the first time that a court had placed any jurisdiction back under “preclearance” since the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the VRA in 2013 that had required a large number of predominantly Southern states like Texas with a history of racial discrimination to clear any proposed voting changes with the Justice Department. That decision, Shelby County v. Holder, eliminated the traditional preclearance regime, prompting white Republicans in many states and cities to rush an array of restrictive voting laws into law.

But preclearance isn’t entirely dead. In Pasadena, the district court was able to use another provision of the VRA to “bail” Pasadena back into preclearance by finding officials had intentionally discriminated. These Republican officeholders will almost certainly appeal the ruling and could soon find itself before a Supreme Court with four justices implacably hostile to voting rights after Trump picks Antonin Scalia’s replacement. Nonetheless, if Justice Anthony Kennedy can be swayed to uphold this decision, the threat of imposing preclearance via this “bail-in” procedure might become a viable option for deterring some of the most flagrantly discriminatory voting laws.

Unfortunately, Republicans are about to take over the Justice Department, and Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, is an extreme enemy of voting rights, so even if Pasadena is required to clear future changes to voting procedures with the Justice Department, Sessions may just give the city a green light to do whatever it pleases. However, should Democrats regain the presidency and thus the Justice Department, they might one day follow the precedent to partly overcome congressional Republicans’ opposition to restoring the full Voting Rights Act.

Voter suppression

Attorney General: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general proceeded this week as he stumbled through his confirmation hearings apparently unscathed. Many key Democratic senators announced their opposition, but since Democrats would need three Republican votes to block Sessions even if the entire party were unanimous in opposition, his chance of confirmation appeared strong after faux centrist GOP Sen. Susan Collins effusively backed him.

Sessions’ nomination as the nation’s top law enforcement officer is the surest sign possible that the incoming Trump administration will take an extremely hostile stance toward voting rights, as The Nation’s Ari Berman has detailed extensively in his coverage of the senator’s reactionary record (here and here). During his confirmation hearings, Sessions reiterated that he believes the Voting Rights Act is “intrusive” of states’ rights, claimed that voter ID laws are not discriminatory, and feigned ignorance of recent major 2016 court rulings that explicitly found that such voter ID laws were, in fact, discriminatory.

Perhaps most disturbingly, Sessions has expressed no remorse for, back in 1985, becoming the first prosecutor after the Voting Rights Act’s passage to charge civil rights activists for bogus voter fraud when they attempted to help minorities to exercise their right to vote. (Sessions at the time was a U.S. attorney.) Now Sessions’ powers will be far greater. He could use office to switch sides on major voting rights lawsuits, direct U.S. attorneys to prosecute concocted voter fraud cases, and generally turn the Justice Department from a crusader for minority voting rights, as it was under Obama, into the instrument of their demise.

• Iowa: Republicans gained complete control over Iowa’s state government last fall, and they swiftly began talking about changes to voting laws, including a new requirement for voter ID. However, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate is now publicly backpedaling, claiming his voter ID proposal didn’t aim to fight supposed fraud but rather was designed streamline election administration. He supposedly wants to require a suitable ID card from every voter but would issue a photo-less one for free to everyone who lacks the appropriate ID and allow provisional ballots from those who lack ID.

It remains to be seen whether legislators will actually implement Pate’s proposal or a stricter one. Regardless, voting rights advocates can’t rest easy given the GOP’s record of introducing voting restrictions in state after state since winning control over legislatures across the country after 2010.

Early Voting & Registration

• New York: The Empire State is one of just 13 that does not offer any form of in-person early or absentee voting without an excuse. Although it has long polling hours on Election Day and allows excused absentee ballots, this lack of options can be burdensome for many voters, and New York regularly has one of the nation’s lower turnout rates. In a surprise move, though, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo just released a sweeping proposal of reforms that would require 12 days of early voting, same-day voter registration, and automatic voter registration for those who interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they opt out.

These proposals are a welcome change from Cuomo, who in the past has done little to advance the cause of voting rights. However, they could face stiff opposition from the Republican-led coalition that controls the state Senate along with several turncoat Democrats. And a huge reason this obstacle exists is because Cuomo duplicitously signed one of the nation’s most aggressive Republican gerrymanders, which is how the GOP has retained control of the chamber in such a blue state.

Notably, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently proposed some of these reforms himself, indicating that a possible 2018 gubernatorial primary between him and Cuomo could see both Democrats campaign on voting reforms.

• Virginia: Like New York, Virginia is another state that lacks early voting. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe just unveiled a package of reforms that include allowing voters to cast absentee ballots in-person and without an excuse for three weeks before an election. The governor is also advocating for the repeal the state’s voter ID law, although Virginia’s requirement isn’t as strict as in other states. The Republican-controlled legislature almost certainly won’t let McAuliffe get anywhere, but these proposals demonstrate the Democratic Party’s commitment to voting rights ahead of this year’s crucial gubernatorial election, where a Republican victory could lead to new voting restrictions.

Felony Disenfranchisement

• Wyoming: A new Republican bill in Wyoming would streamline the process for those with non-violent felony convictions to regain their voting rights upon the completion of their sentences. Wyoming currently has one of the harshest laws on felony disenfranchisement, with five percent of the population unable to vote, including an enormous 17 percent of the state’s small African-American population. At present, those who have completed their sentences have to go through a burdensome application process to restore their right to vote. As a result, almost three quarters of the state’s disenfranchised population have fully served their sentences.

This bill would make the restoration process automatic for many of those convicted of non-violent felonies. While this reform would be far from perfect—for instance, Maine and Vermont don’t disenfranchise anyone with felony convictions—it could dramatically reduce the proportion of disenfranchised voters. Wyoming’s legislature has an overwhelming Republican majority, but a bipartisan group of legislators has sponsored the bill, meaning its hopes for passage can’t be ruled out.

Election Timing & Turnout

• Kentucky: A Republican state senator has proposed a state constitutional amendment that would move statewide elections from odd-numbered years to coincide with presidential elections starting in 2024. If such an amendment passed the legislature, it would go before voters on the 2018 ballot. Republicans gained total control over state government in 2016 for the first time in history, but it’s uncertain whether this proposal could attain broad support, particularly since Democrats might oppose it if they think it would be harder to win in an election where their party’s presidential nominee would likely lose by a landslide.

Any partisan motivations aside, consolidating elections with the presidential cycle would increase participation more than any other reform short of compulsory voting. Kentucky’s 2015 turnout rate was a paltry 30 percent of eligible voters despite featuring a heavily contested gubernatorial election, while the uncompetitive 2016 presidential election in the state saw approximately 59 percent of eligible voters participate. Only 11 other states hold their gubernatorial elections in presidential years, and doing so in Kentucky could practically double turnout in downballot races.

The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.

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on this day … 3/3 The U.S. imposed a $2 head tax on immigrants.

World1791 – The U.S. Congress passed a resolution that created the U.S. Mint.

1803 – The first impeachment trial of a U.S. Judge, John Pickering, began.

1812 – The U.S. Congress passed the first foreign aid bill.

1817 – The first commercial steamboat route from Louisville to New Orleans was opened.

1845 – Florida became the 27th U.S. state.

1845 – The U.S. Congress passed legislation overriding a U.S. President’s veto. It was the first time the Congress had achieved this.

1845 – An Act of Congress established uniform postal rates throughout the nation. The act went into effect on July 1, 1845.

1849 – The U.S. Department of the Interior was established.

1849 – The Gold Coinage Act was passed by the U.S. Congress. It allowed the minting of gold coins.

1849 – The U.S. Congress created the territory of Minnesota.

1851 – The U.S. Congress authorized the 3-cent piece. It was the smallest U.S. silver coin.

1857 – Britain and France declared war on China.

1863 – Free city delivery of mail was authorized by the U.S. Postal Service.

1875 – The U.S. Congress authorized the 20-cent piece. It was only used for 3 years.

1878 – Russia and the Ottomans signed the treaty of San Stenafano. The treaty granted independence to Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and the autonomy of Bulgaria.

1885 – The American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) was incorporated in New York as a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company.

1885 – The U.S. Post Office began offering special delivery for first-class mail.

1894 – The “Atlantis” was first published. It was the first Greek newspaper in America.

1900 – Striking miners in Germany returned to work.

1903 – In St. Louis, MO, Barney Gilmore was arrested for spitting.

1903 – The U.S. imposed a $2 head tax on immigrants.

1904 – Wilhelm II of Germany made the first recording of a political document with Thomas Edison’s cylinder.

1905 – The Russian Czar agreed to create an elected assembly.

1906 – A Frenchman tried the first flight in an airplane with tires.

1908 – The U.S. government declared open war on on U.S. anarchists.

1909 – Aviators Herring, Curtiss and Bishop announced that airplanes would be made commercially in the U.S.

1910 – J.D. Rockefeller Jr. announced his withdrawal from business to administer his father’s fortune for an “uplift in humanity”. He also appealed to the U.S. Congress for the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation.

1910 – In New York, Robert Forest founded the National Housing Association to fight deteriorating urban living conditions.

1910 – Nicaraguan rebels admitted defeat in open war and resorted to guerrilla tactics in the hope of U.S. intervention.

1915 – The motion picture “Birth of a Nation” debuted in New York City.

1918 – The Treaty of Brest Litovsky was signed by Germany, Austria and Russia. The treaty ended Russia’s participation in World War I.

1923 – The first issue of Time magazine was published.

1930 – “Flying High” opened at the Apollo Theatre in New York City.

1931 – The “Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key, was adopted as the American national anthem. The song was originally a poem known as “Defense of Fort McHenry.”

1938 – A world record for the indoor mile run was set by Glenn Cunningham. He ran the distance in 4 minutes, 4.4 seconds.

1939 – In Bombay, Ghandi began a fast to protest the state’s autocratic rule.

1941 – Moscow denounced the Axis rule in Bulgaria.

1945 – Superman encountered Batman and Robin for the first time on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

1945 – During World War II, Finland declared war on the Axis.

1952 – “Whispering Streets” debuted on ABC Radio.

1952 – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld New York’s Feinberg Law that banned Communist teachers in the U.S.

1956 – Morocco gained its independence.

1959 – The San Francisco Giants had their new stadium officially named Candlestick Park.

1969 – Apollo 9 was launched by NASA to test a lunar module.

1969 – Sirhan Sirhan testified in a Los Angeles court that he killed Robert Kennedy.

1972 – NASA’s Pioneer 10 spacecraft was launched.

1973 – Japan disclosed its first defense plan since World War II.

1974 – About 350 people died when a Turkish Airlines DC-10 crashed just after takeoff from Orly Airport in Paris.

1978 – The remains of Charles Chaplin were stolen from his grave in Cosier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. The body was recovered 11 weeks later near Lake Geneva.

1980 – The submarine Nautilus was decommissioned. The vessels final voyage had ended on May 26, 1979.

1985 – Women Against Pornography awarded its ‘Pig Award’ to Huggies Diapers. The activists claimed that the TV ads for diapers had “crossed the line between eye-catching and porn.”

1987 – The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a package of $30 million in non-lethal aid for the Nicaraguan Contras.

1991 – 25 people were killed when a United Airlines Boeing 737-200 crashed while on approach to the Colorado Springs airport.

1991 – Rodney King was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The scene was captured on amateur video. (California)

1994 – The Mexican government reached a peace agreement with the Chiapas rebels.

1995 – A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia ended. Several gunmen were killed by U.S. Marines in Mogadishu while overseeing the pull out of peacekeepers.

1999 – In Egypt, 19 people were killed when a bus plunged into a Nile canal.

In Portland’s Or, PNW heart, 2010 Census shows diversity dwindling

By Nikole Hannah-Jones, The Oregonian

Portland, already the whitest major city in the country, has become whiter at its core even as surrounding areas have grown more diverse.

Of 354 census tracts in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, 40 became whiter from 2000 to 2010, according to The Oregonian’s analysis of the 2010 Census. Of those, two lie in rural Clackamas County. The 38 others are in Portland.

The city core didn’t become whiter simply because lots of white residents moved in, the data show. Nearly 10,000 people of color, mostly African Americans, also moved out.

And those who left didn’t move to nicer areas. Pushed out by gentrification, most settled on the city’s eastern edges, according to the census data, where the sidewalks, grocery stores and parks grow sparse, and access to public transit is limited.

As a result, the part of Portland famous for its livability — for charming shops and easy transit, walkable streets and abundant bike paths — increasingly belongs to affluent whites.

The change raises unsettling questions for a city that prides itself on tolerance, social equity and valuing diversity. What did Portland, a city known for planning, do as people of color were forced to the city’s fringes and beyond? What role did city leaders play in the dispersal? And as the city maps its future, what steps will it take to protect the diversity that remains?

“The exodus from the central city causes me great concern; it is alarming,” Portland Mayor Sam Adams said. “Whether you are a Portlander of color or a white Portlander, you should care about the fact that we offer such limited access to equal opportunities.”

Striking transformation

The rate of displacement surprised even people with a front-row view.

“I am so saddened by these numbers,” said Judith Mowry, who runs the city’s Restorative Listening Project, which brings people together to discuss the harms of gentrification. “This is not a healthy, sustainable city; this is not who we want to be.”

The trend also runs counter to state and citywide numbers. Overall, Oregon saw significant gains in communities of color, particularly with 64 percent growth for Latinos and 40 percent for Asians. Statewide, the nonwhite population climbed from 16 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2010.

Portland as a whole grew more diverse, too, with its nonwhite population increasing from 25 percent to 28 percent. Still, the city showed small gains in diversity compared with most big U.S. cities and solidified its position as the nation’s whitest. For the first time, Multnomah County, dominated by Portland, took a back seat to Washington County as the state’s most diverse.

On the city’s inner east side, however, most census tracts became whiter, even those already overwhelmingly white. Tracts along Southeast Stark Street, for example, climbed from 78 percent white to 82 percent, or 80 percent to 85 percent.

Inner North and Northeast witnessed the most striking transformation. The area bounded by the Willamette River, North Greeley Avenue, Northeast Columbia Boulevard, Northeast 42nd Avenue and Interstate 84 lost about 8,400 people of color, including 7,700 African Americans, or a loss of one in four compared with the population in 2000. Today, about 29,900 people of color remain in a total population of 105,500.

censusgraphic.NE.jpgView full size

For people pushed from their cultural homes, the loss can be devastating. In all of Oregon, only Northeast Portland provides the cluster of churches, beauty salons, restaurants, nonprofits and political groups that signal to African Americans that they have a place in a very white state.

“Often residents no longer feel they have power in the community,” Japonica Brown-Saracino, a Boston University ethnographer, said of such displacements. “Their social networks are gone.”

North/Northeast remains home to the highest concentration of African Americans in the state. But in 2000, people of color outnumbered whites in 10 of the area’s census tracts. A decade later, all of those tracts had flipped to majority white. One tract alone, encompassing the Woodlawn neighborhood, saw a net loss of 915 black residents and a net gain of 840 white residents, shifting from 33 percent white in 2000 to 53 percent white in 2010.

As Karen Gibson, a Portland State University urban planner, put it: “Those who can afford it push out those who can’t.”

“Fraud and deception”

How did we get here? Mowry said people like to think of what happened as completely in the past, unrelated to what we see today. But it’s not history, she said. It’s part of one long story of a city that today professes a live-and-let-live ethic but was once known as the most segregated city outside the South. full size

The seeds of gentrification were planted during World War II, when African Americans from the South flowed into Portland to take jobs in the shipyards.

Portland officials and community members, from real estate agents to bankers, pushed the black community into a small area called Lower Albina, near the present-day Rose Quarter, through redlining and other now-illegal practices. White Portlanders fled, and the city began a long pattern of disinvestment.

Street and sidewalk repairs were neglected, and the city did little to develop businesses or enforce housing codes, said Gibson, the PSU planner, who wrote a study in 2007 called “Bleeding Albina: A History of Community Disinvestment, 1940-2000.”

Many banks refused to make home loans in black areas. Some residents were denied loans for less money than their bank-approved car loans. Appraisers artificially devalued the area’s housing stock, so even people who did own saw little growth in wealth or equity that they could tap to maintain their homes. Predatory lenders swept in, and the area became ripe for drugs and crime.

“The degree of fraud and deception perpetrated on the people of Albina was remarkable,” Gibson wrote. “Hundreds rented substandard housing while others paid high rates or were swindled out of homeownership.”

anjala.JPGPortland native Anjala Ehelebe, historian of Northeast Portland’s  Woodlawn neighborhood, moved there 27 years ago and has watched it undergo dramatic change. Woodlawn saw a net loss of 915 black residents from 2000 to 2010, more than any other Portland neighborhood, going from 33 percent white to 53 percent.

Anjala Ehelebe remembers the frustration she and others felt when she moved into Woodlawn 27 years ago. She’d fallen in love with a 1913 Craftsman bungalow on a double lot. Like her, Ehelebe’s neighbors were black.

“There were people here who wanted to fix up their houses, but they couldn’t,” she said. “It’s not a fair system, and people do the best with what they’ve got.”

Ehelebe said the neighborhood got little help when gangs took hold. “We were told that (police) said, ‘These people deserve the crime they get,'” said Ehelebe, who serves on the neighborhood board and wrote a book on Woodlawn’s history. “Our property values just went down and down.”

An investigation in The Oregonian in 1990 titled “Blueprint for a Slum” detailed the city’s neglect and lenders’ illegal practices. It found that Northeast Portland held one-third of the city’s abandoned homes, with 26 percent in just two neighborhoods, Boise and King.

Block-by-block plan

The investigation inspired Gretchen Kafoury, then a new city commissioner, to lead a campaign to bring predatory lenders to justice and redevelopment dollars into the sagging neighborhoods.The city and county collaborated to funnel local and federal money into the area and to transfer hundreds of tax-foreclosed properties to community development corporations created to repair and sell decrepit homes.

Kafoury led the city to adopt a block-by-block action plan in which code enforcers tracked down absentee landlords and forced them to fix up or sell their units, or face steep fines.

“We changed the whole focus with the way we dealt with the neighborhoods in inner Northeast,” Kafoury said. She also worked to shame banks that had abandoned or preyed on Northeast Portland into making loans there.

But that rush of official attention and investment had consequences after years of neglect.

Experts say Portland followed a typical road map to gentrification, which is challenging cities as demographically diverse as Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. First comes disinvestment in areas near downtown where affluent, typically white, residents have fled. Then comes an economic resurgence, drawing middle-class residents back.

Portland, with an economic boom in the 1990s, was ripe for the “new urbanism” wave in which young adults rediscovered the allure of old homes and the benefits of living close-in.

City reinvestment and the influx combined to send home prices and rents climbing. The urban-growth boundary, by restricting new construction, pushed prices even higher. Restaurants and boutiques opened, displacing longtime businesses and making the areas even more desirable to newcomers.

“We are now seeing people return to the cities, and it’s an issue of personal taste and convenience,” said Sabiyha Prince, an anthropology professor at American University who is writing a book on gentrification in Washington, D.C.

“The early pioneers of gentrification have been gay people, artists, empty-nesters, people who didn’t necessarily have kids and didn’t have to be concerned about putting their kids in the schools,” she said. “But they are the ones who also have access to the loans.”

Ehelebe watched her neighborhood change in ways both good and bad in the 1990s. She liked the diversity of her block as more whites and Latinos moved in, and she liked that her home value inched up.

She didn’t like the assumption that white residents made the neighborhood better, or the lengthening list of closed black businesses.

But it was nothing like what was to come.

“Oh my God,” Kafoury said when shown the 2010 Census figures. “We thought we were doing a good thing.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones Follow nhannahjones on Twitter