Anointed committee packs new ‘minority’ congressional district with Democrats, Hispanics
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 14. While the proposal's chief organizer is an IBEW Local 357 PAC member, Local 357's PAC did not endorse the proposal. Nevada Journal regrets the error.
In an attempt to give "our new congressperson a huge advantage" — and in response to a request from Democratic Party leaders — a group of ten Democrat political activists has proposed a new congressional district heavily favoring Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford.
Nevada Journal obtained a copy of the proposed new "minority district," drawn to include the current state-senate district of Horsford, D-Clark. The activist group, lead by an IBEW Local 357 member, created the proposal at the request of the Nevada State Democratic Party and specifically identifies Horsford as the Democratic candidate for the 2012 general election.
"We wanted to create a ‘minority district' and give our new congressperson a huge advantage," the activists wrote in their proposal. "After all, this person will start their campaign with the least money and the lowest name recognition. Every member of our group believes our new 2012 general election congressional candidate will be Steven Horsford."
IBEW, or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is a national labor union that reported donating more than $800,000 during the 2010 elections, including $50,000 supporting California Proposal 27, a failed ballot measure that would have eliminated California's independent redistricting commission.
Local 357, located in Las Vegas, donated more than $78,000 during the 2010 election cycle — 98.4 percent to Democrats.
The 40-page proposal was addressed to Horsford, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Clark and Assemblyman Tick Segerbloom, D-Clark, at the Democrats' state party headquarters in Las Vegas.
The proposal was delivered in October 2009. At the time, Horsford was vice chair of the Joint Committee to Study the Requirements for Reapportionment and Redistricting. He is currently a member of the Senate Operations and Elections Committee, which oversees redistricting.
According to the proposal, the new congressional district would cover all of North Las Vegas, including Horsford's current district, and stretch up into rural Nevada before ending just south of Carson City.
Horsford's state-senate district is a safe one. In the 2004 and 2008 elections, the Senate majority leader received over 70 percent of the vote. By including his senate district in the prospective fourth congressional district, the activists' plan could give him a big leg up for Congress, also.
The activists wrote that their plan would make Nevada "the most un-gerrymandered state in the nation," but three of the four proposed districts would hold significantly more registered Democrats than Republicans. Only CD-2, currently held by Republican Dean Heller, would have a Republican advantage. Democrats currently hold a 42.7 percent to 35.2 percent registration advantage over Republicans statewide.
In their paper, the proposal's authors repeatedly cite consultations with an unnamed "population expert." Michael McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University who is scheduled to present Thursday before a joint legislative committee, speculates that the unidentified "expert" may be from the National Committee for Effective Congress, a liberal Washington, D.C.-based PAC dedicated to helping "elect progressive candidates to the U.S. Senate and House."
McDonald said many state parties use registered-voter data to get a jump on the redistricting process, but often times the voter data and final Census numbers are "substantially different."
According to the activists' plan, registered Democrats would outnumber registered Republicans by 33 percent in CD-4, 16 percent in CD-3 (currently held by Republican Joe Heck) and 13 percent in CD-1 (currently held by Democrat Shelley Berkley). CD-2, currently held by Heller, would maintain a 7 percent Republican advantage.
"From a state party perspective," wrote the activists, "these numbers are nearly perfect. The candidate who needs the most help gets the most help. Democrats should win all three of these races. There are not enough residents in Clark County for three congressional seats, so someone has to go into the rural counties (for less than 18 percent of their votes). To reward Steven for taking on this chore, we loaded him up in Clark County."
By catering to Horsford, the Democrat activists neglected at least two other rumored congressional candidates: Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and state Sen. Mo Denis.
Both lawmakers serve on their respective chambers' elections committees, so each will have influence over the drawing process. Oceguera, being Assembly speaker, has more political visibility and has been linked by several media outlets to a 2012 congressional run. His current Assembly district is in the proposed CD-3.
Horsford, Oceguera and Denis did not return Nevada Journal requests for comment.
Denis, a Cuban-American, would fit with the Democrats' goal of creating a "minority district" with a large Hispanic population. Yet his name is not mentioned in the proposal and his current senate district lies in CD-4. A source, however, told Nevada Journal: "He will be running."
According to recently released U.S. Census data, Nevada's Hispanic population increased by 82 percent in the last decade. State Sen. David Parks, D-Clark, chairman of the Senate Operations and Elections Committee, said Census numbers show Nevada has emerged as a "melting pot in the West."
Using the new data, Nevada Journal mapped out the proposed new district, obtaining a demographic breakdown. According to the available data, CD-4 would contain 41 percent whites, 37 percent Hispanics and 12 percent African-Americans.
By contrast, Hispanics would make up 20 percent of both CD-1 and CD-2 and 24 percent of CD-3. African-Americans would be 9 percent of CD-1, 2 percent of CD-2, and 7 percent of CD-3.
If the Legislature approved the activists' plan, the congressional district proposed for Horsford would be the closest of the four to a "majority-minority district," defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures as a district where a single racial or language minority is the largest population.
State Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Clark, a member of the Senate Operations and Elections Committee, said Republicans also are planning a majority-minority district. She stressed, however, that their biggest goal is creating "fair districts for the state."
Historically, courts have ruled that some majority-minority districts in Southern states were inequitable. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 required certain states to "obtain administrative or judicial preclearance to any changes in a standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting."
Nevada is not a "preclearance state," as defined by the Voting Rights Act, and would not need preliminary federal judicial approval of its districts. The Supreme Court has also ruled that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional.
According to Eileen O'Grady, legal counsel at the Legislative Counsel Bureau, state lawmakers will have to avoid "packing" or "fracturing" minorities. The LCB defines "packing" as when minority supermajorities are concentrated within one or more districts, while "fracturing" disperses minorities across many districts.
Both tactics are political ploys: A "packed" district minimizes the number of seats a minority population could win while "fractured" districts dilute the minority vote throughout the county or state.
Stacy Gordon-Fisher, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, does not believe packing will play out in the redistricting session, but stated a sizeable Hispanic population in a district like that designed for Horsford is achievable.
"It may be possible for one district to have a large percentage of Hispanics (e.g., perhaps 30-35 percent), and while that wouldn't be a majority-minority district, Hispanics would still have a significant impact on elections within that district," wrote Gordon-Fisher in an e-mail.
According to Segerbloom, chairman of the Assembly's elections committee, as Hispanics have become a "substantial portion" of the population, they would be a large factor in the redistricting process. In the 2001 session, he said, the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate focused more on partisan gains.
In that session, members of the Hispanic community testified at hearings held by the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. As a result, the Republican majority modified its plan to include two new, 60-percent-Hispanic assembly districts and put one in the new congressional district.
The Legislature's final 2001 districts established two assembly seats and one senate seat with 60 percent Hispanic populations.
However, even a majority-minority population edge doesn't guarantee a candidate of a particular race election success: A Hispanic candidate won only one of the three Hispanic-weighted seats in the 2002 elections.
David Damore, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the competing interests of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval (himself of Hispanic roots), Horsford and Oceguera could produce a "tough and messy" battle.
"I don't know who is going to be the key figure," said Damore. "It depends how much gets tied to the budget. If the budget battle gets ugly, I wouldn't be surprised if [redistricting] got dragged into a special session."
Individuals interested in following the redistricting session can attend one of several joint committee hearings held in the upcoming weeks. In addition to the simulcast hearing the afternoon of March 10, hearings will be held March 24 in Fallon, March 31 in Reno and April 2 in Las Vegas.
For more information on redistricting, visit http://www.npri.org/ for previous reports on the subject.