by Max Brantley
The big fight is probably still several days or weeks ahead, but Roby Brock, who delves into the issue at some length today, is certainly correct that the debate over congressional redistricting will be a partisan tussle. Republicans will try to protect and enhance their three seats. Nominal Democratic Rep. Mike Ross will try to keep his 4th District as friendly as possible as it picks up territory to offset population losses.
But can we get one thing out of the way right now? There is NO legitimate way — NONE — to draw a "majority minority" legislative district — that is, one that is majority black. The state's overall black population isn't big enough and there's sufficient dispersal that the pockets in Pulaski County, Jefferson County and other Delta areas are sufficiently distant — and sometimes with white pockets in between — that it would require an incredible gerrymander and multiple county carve-ups to even come close. Still couldn't happen.
Republicans are pushing this idea. They know a majority black district can't be created. But they like to pack minorities into as few a number of districts as possible, to lessen the influence of their traditional Democratic voting inclinations in multiple districts. They like the idea of a Democratic district with, say, a 40 percent population because they think a black candidate could win the Democratic nomination and be another Joyce Elliott, clobbered by the anti-Obama wave that swamped so many Democrats in 2010.
So Republicans are cozying up to black Democrats, who'd of course like to have a decent shot, helped by polarized voting, to finally win a congressional seat in Arkansas. I'm not unsympathetic to black Democrats. I'm not sure I'd object to districting that moved in that direction. But a Democrat, black or white, who thinks a Republican represents his best interests in this debate needs to have another think. And, while dividing some counties to balance population seems inevitable this year, the number should be held down to the greatest extent possible. Wild gerrymanders should be discarded. And dividing up the state's most populous and most concentrated county, Pulaski, should be a non-starter. Dividing the most populous county would be the most disruptive county division.