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Hocker: Protecting and Expanding Power Foremost Goal of House Democrats’ Redistricting Plan

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Town Square Delaware invited members of the Delaware House of Representatives’ Majority and Minority Caucus to comment on current efforts to redraw the legislative district maps following the 2010 Census. This is the response from the Minority Caucus, written by Representative Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View). For a look at the Majority Caucus’ statement, click here.

 

Protecting and Expanding Power Foremost Goal of House Democrats’ Redistricting Plan
by House Minority Whip Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View)


It is impossible to miss the political bias inherent in the plan being pressed by the State House of Representatives’ Democratic majority to re-draw the chamber’s 41 districts.

Although federal law supposedly bars new district maps from being drawn in such a way as to disproportionately benefit one political party, the nebulous nature of the law makes it very difficult to enforce.  Aware of this shortcoming, House Democrats have cobbled together a redistricting plan designed to provide maximum protection to their incumbents and maximum advantage to their House candidates in the next election cycle.

Speaking at a recent public hearing on the plan, State Republican Party Chairman John Sigler noted that while Republicans hold less than 37-percent of the House seats (15 of 41), the burden of the re-crafted districts falls unequally on House Republicans.

Under the Democratic proposal, four current Republican state representatives have been placed into two redrawn House districts.  The plan groups Republican State Reps. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek) and Nick Manolakos (R-Limestone Hills) into the same district; and State Reps. Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne) and Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) into one district.

This will force two of these incumbents to make a difficult decision to run against their colleagues in a primary, run for another office, or leave public service.

In a disingenuous move the Democrat plan also places two Democratic incumbents – State Reps. Darryl Scott (D-Dover) and E. Brad Bennett (D-Dover) – in their proposal for a new 31st Representative District.  But the proposal is nothing more than a transparent subterfuge.  On the same day Democrats released their plan, Rep. Bennett confirmed to reporters that plans had already been made for him to move into the new 32nd District, allowing him to run for re-election without the need to face-off against his fellow Democrat.

The two Republican districts in New Castle County being closed under the Democrats’ plan will be relocated downstate, one of which will be moved to the Milton-Lewes area in an apparent attempt to create a better election situation for former State Archivist Russ McCabe.  A Democratic candidate in 2010, McCabe lost his bid for a State House seat to Harvey Kenton.  The new district will have no incumbent and has been gerrymandered with demographics favorable to electing a Democratic candidate.

While creating opportunity for their own party candidates, the House Democrats have carefully crafted their maps to eliminate strong 2010 Republican House candidates from districts now held by Democratic incumbents.  Judy Travis was drawn out of State Rep. Bryon Short’s 7th District.  Former Speaker of the House Terry Spence was drawn out of the 18th District he represented for 28 years.  Beth Miller was drawn out of the new 32nd District, in which she ran against State Rep. Brad Bennett last year.  And, John Marino was drawn out of the 9th District, where he lost against freshman Representative Rebecca Walker.

In all four instances, the challengers were narrowly excluded from their former districts with their homes drawn just outside the new district lines.

The House Democrats also tried to preserve power in the City of Wilmington, a longtime Democratic stronghold.   Wilmington now has a population of 70,851 – roughly about the maximum size (22,995 people) of three representative districts.  Yet the Democratic plan maintains four House seats.

House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf said they had to maintain the city’s seats to remain in compliance with federal election laws, which protects districts where minorities have significant voting power.

Aside from the irony of federal laws being cited for a reason to implement a self-serving plan – statutes which the House Democrats ignore in other aspects of their proposal – the reality is that the plan dilutes minority voting power.

From a June 1st News Journal article (“Delaware politics: Democrats diluting black vote, data show”) was this excerpt: “Four existing House districts where blacks are the majority of residents would see their percentage of the population decline, according to census data and the House Democratic redistricting plan.”

An alternative plan put forth by House Republicans properly eliminates one of Wilmington’s House districts, but does a better job at ensuring minority representation statewide.  Under the House Republican plan, there would be a total of 10 House districts were minority populations would exert significant influence in electing their state representative.  There are only nine such districts in the House Democrats’ plan.

Another instance in the House Democrat redistricting plan where political benefit outweighs all other considerations is in Sussex County’s 37th Representative District.

Earlier this spring, the Hispanic Redistricting Task Force urged legislators to make Georgetown part of a single representative district to maximize the clout of the area’s Hispanic community.  The request is in keeping with federal guidelines for drawing new district lines, one of which requires mapmakers to “keep communities of interest together.”

However, the Democratic proposal for the new 37th District seems to be drawn primarily with undermining the existing Republican incumbent.  The proposed new lines not only exclude the bulk of the current constituents from the district, the proposal also eliminates minority residents just outside of Georgetown, dispersing their voting power.

Under the Democrats’ plan, the 37th District includes 9.8 percent African-Americans and 19.4 percent Hispanic – a coalition minority population of 29.2 percent.  In contrast, the alternative Republican plan for the district has a coalition population of 37.5 percent: 14.7 percent African-Americans and 22.8 percent Hispanic.

Throughout the redistricting process, the House Democrats have given lip-service to the concepts of inclusion, transparency and sensitivity to minority populations.  The self-interested plan that’s been produced, however, was crafted by the hands of a select few, behind closed doors, with the goal of protecting and expanding Democratic power in the State House.

Speaking at the one public hearing on the plan, which lasted less than an hour, John Sigler put it succinctly when he said: “If fairness and equity are the aim of this process, then the process has failed.”

 

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