The 2010 Census is being slowly unveiled, and it's fun looking it over
to see what changes and trends are taking place. The two that are
getting the most press attention is that of population shift. The
population of the United States is shifting westward and southward. Just
as it has in every census going back to 1820. Eek. The other story was
the rise of minority population, especially Hispanics. That one was
slightly more surprising, since it continues a trend that has only been
going on for 50 years.
So the two main stories aren't really stories at all. Or more
accurately, they aren't news. In the long run, they are the defining
stories of America. But as a part of the 2010 census, they come as no
surprise to anybody.
A lot of noise is being made about reapportionment, especially the four
Congressional seats Texas picked up. Dems have been in a perfect flap
and whirl over that, since Texas is a very red state, and so it's
presupposed that the Texas lege will gerrymander these into 4 safe
But Texas also led in population growth of minorities, and much of the
rest came from blue rust-belt states. Thanks to the determined efforts
of the GOP to alienate anyone who isn't white and male, a lot of these
new residents are likely to vote Democratic. So it isn't a given that
these will be 4 new Republican seats. In fact, it's more likely that 2,
3, and perhaps all four might go Democratic in 2012.
Apportionment is inexact, and while the typical Congressman has about
710,000 people in his or her district, that can vary by plus or minus
25%. Rhode Island is where you get the biggest bang for your federal
vote, since a Congressional rep there only has 527,124 people. At the
other end is Montana, where 994,416 people are needed to create one
Congressman. You might think that Montana would have better Congressmen
than Rhode Island with all those extra people involved, but that appears
not to be the case.
Montana just missed having enough people to get a second congressman, so
they got screwed on the deal. They needed a million, and came up 6,000
short. Too back they can't count cattle. Needless to say, folks in
Montana aren't very happy about how the chips fell in this particular
deal, but the rules have been in place for over 200 years, so nobody is
going to put up much argument.
The Constitution doesn't give a high end for the number of people that a
congress critter can represent. There IS a lower number: you need 30,000
people at least to form a Congressional district. If that was an upper
number, as well, the population of the House would be close to ten
thousand members. Voice votes would not be a popular option. But the
higher the number of reps, the more accurate the representation from
state to state.
Every once in a while someone thinks of this, and this being America,
sues. The latest was a case, /Clemons v. Department of Commerce/, which
demanded a raise in congressional reps in order to increase
representation for the state of Mississippi.
The case was vacated by the Supreme Court and while the court didn't
need to provide grounds for the vacancy, it doesn't take much imagining
to realize that it's a separation of powers issue. Congress, and
Congress alone, may determine the number of members in the House, being
restricted only by the 1 for 30,000 people stipulation in the
Constitution. The House could grow itself to 10,000 members without
violating the 30,000 constituents rule. In theory, it could reduce its
membership to just 50 voting members – one for each state – but it's a
little hard to imagine representatives from states that presently have
more than one representative now supporting such a plan.
One interesting thing is that while the Congress determines the number
of representatives any given state will have, the states themselves
determine how apportionment of districts is applied. This can lead to
some very strangely shaped districts. I lived in one district that was,
in effect, a band going along about 50 miles of California shoreline,
never more than about 15 miles wide. Except about halfway along, where a
tentacle of land, literally one foot in width, stretched across
uninhabited mountains to include a medium-sized and very conservative
town some 150 miles inland. It took what otherwise was a very liberal
district and gave it a Republican congressman. This was back in the days
when Republicans were pretty decent people, but still.
California has taken reapportionment out of the hands of the lege and
given it to a independent and bipartisan panel. It will be interesting
to see how that turns out.
Another way to avoid the whole issue of gerrymandering is to simply have
a state, such as California, declare itself one big district, and
everyone eligible to vote can vote for one of a couple of hundred
candidates. The top 53 vote-getters would be California's congressional
delegation. This would guarantee that people from splinter parties, such
as Libertarian or Social Democrats, could work to get at least one
representative in there, making the state delegation more representative
of the state itself. There would still be regional interests, with
people running campaigns concentrated on particular regions and geared
to that regions' top interests, but they would be actual regions, and
not just odd-shaped chunks on the state map. I'm in California's second
district, and I would like to see someone running here who didn't
promise to keep the northern central valley well-supplied with mountain
water. I'm in those mountains, but most of my district is in the central
valley. So we don't get much in the way of representation, and wouldn't
even if our congressman hadn't long ago decided to represent major
corporations instead. We have a Mormon who is friendly to Big Liquor,
Big Tobacco, and Big Banks, none of which we have around here.
California, the census shows, is having a population shift of its own.
Growth was, by California standards, low—10% over ten years. But most of
it was in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Even the Sierra
foothills and desert areas grew more than coastal areas.
Part of that was due to housing prices. Prior to the housing meltdown, a
three bedroom suburban home could and did command over a million
dollars. In fact, that was the main factor, since the coast generally
has better air quality and a milder climate than the inland areas.
So the shift in California doesn't reflect the national shift. It's easy
to see why people might prefer to live in Fort Lauderdale over Detroit,
Augusta with its magnolias over Camden, New Jersey. But who would choose
Fresno over Santa Barbara, San Bernardino over San Diego? People see the
growth in the state that normally shows as red on the election maps and
assume it means the state is moving rightward, but as with the national
map, a change in neighborhoods doesn't mean a change in politics. The
population shifts of recent years have caused such former red stalwarts
as North Carolina and Orange County to go blue, as they did in 2008.
Of course, a lot more data from the census is yet to be released, and
the Census Bureau has separate surveys to gauge the nation's economic
health. The last one was in 2007 and showed an economy that was stagnant
and anemic. The following year was the economic meltdown, of course, so
the 2012 survey should be significantly grimmer.
The main census details will be online at www.factfinder.census.gov sometime in February. It will break
down the population of 308 million by race, gender, and other
demographic items. Political operatives will be studying the results
with microscopes, looking at income, race and other factors to try and
determine the political leanings of neighborhoods and even individual
streets in order to determine where district boundaries ought to be
drawn. Major corporations will doubtlessly be looking to see where their
employees live in order to maximize their influence and own a
congressman rather than just renting one. Churches and other political
pressure groups, and unions will all be doing the same thing, and there
will be enormous fights in those states – 40 or so – where the
legislature determines Congressional and other representative districts.
A massive feeding frenzy will build up, all built around trying to
leverage any advantage possible in the 2012 election.
And nobody will be looking beyond that to 2016 or 2020.
For all the ferocity of the fighting, the elections will, as always,
revolve around the economy, and general public satisfaction. Right now
neither look to be in real great shape for 2012—the economy especially
is at risk from another speculative bubble growing in oil, and massive
defaults among cities and states over the next two years. Which makes
most of the apportionment battles moot.
But they will be fought. Pay close attention to what your congressional
district looks like in 2012, and hope you don't end up as a ineffectual
counterbalance to an entirely different set of interests 150 miles from
where you live.
Posted: December 31, 2010