Inside the Lines
BY Advocate Contributors
January 12 2011 5:00 AM ET
Texas will gain four, Florida will get two, and Pennsylvania and Michigan are both set to lose one. The results of the 2010 Census, released to President Obama in December, decide how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next election. (The Census Bureau will begin sending demographic data to the states this month and wrap it up by March 31 so states can start the redistricting process.)
For Democrats, the GOP gains in the November midterm elections couldn’t have come at a worse time. “The Republican victories that are most troubling to progressives are not the actual congressional pickups,” says Paul Mitchell, a Democratic political consultant in Sacramento. “It’s the takeover of state legislatures and governor’s offices that are in charge of redistricting.”
Aided by economic distress and Tea Party rhetoric, Republicans made the biggest state office gains in U.S. history—winning control of entire state legislatures, including those in Wisconsin and New Hampshire; gaining houses in key states such as Iowa and Ohio; and replacing Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Michigan, among others.
The once-a-decade process of drawing political districts varies across the country. Some states have independent, or quasi-independent, commissions, while others rely directly on legislatures to decide not only congressional boundaries but also ones for state offices—often the political spawning grounds for those who eventually swim upstream to D.C. Gay communities have been burned by redistricting before: In 2001, California lawmakers split San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood into two state senate districts, infuriating a community caught off guard and concerned with LGBT influence being diluted.
Ten years later, California may have all but stripped partisan influence from the redistricting process, thanks to a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2008 to create a citizens’ redistricting commission—although this stands to diminish the power of the state’s trend-bucking Democratic wins in 2010, to the chagrin of consultants like Mitchell. Florida voters passed two amendments in November setting nonpartisan standards for the creation of legislative districts, which may actually even the playing field for social liberals in the Sunshine State. But Mitchell says gay organizations nationwide need to be vigilant: “There are still densely populated LGBT communities that have never elected someone who is openly gay. It’s time that they start to get counted.”
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