Although some of us may still be smarting that our Age of Aquarius proposal did not get approved (Prop. 19) this time, there were two really important political issues decided on last Tuesday’s ballot that will have major impacts on the future of Black political participation in California.
So the small number of California Black farmers (300 out of 94, 000) will not see any significant increase because of a newly legalized and profitable crop in 2010.
So the numbers of Black citizens imprisoned for first offense, non-violent marijuana possession will indeed continue to rise (currently 750 Black inmates out of 1,300 prisoners in California are incarcerated for such convictions, and rising). Shrug. Those are just par for the course, I suppose.
Ditto for giving the corporate rich more of our money (Prop. 24), and who needs state parks, huh (Prop. 21)? The green revolution continues in California (Prop. 23) and the state can’t unilaterally “borrow” funds from county and city coffers (Prop 22). Yep. Those were really important in the neighborhoods I frequent. Ho-hum. (Although, come to think of it, green collar jobs will significantly reduce Black unemployment, if enough of us will take our behinds back to school and new training programs and stop waiting for salvation in the mailbox.)
The main topic for discussion here is, of course, Propositions 20 and 25, both of which were approved.
Let’s take the last one first, since it’s the most straight-forward. Prop. 25 makes it much more likely that California can join most of the rest of the states and get an annual budget approved on time. Now, requiring a simple majority vote rather than a two-third decision for both legislative houses in California to pass a state budget and submit it to the governor for a signature because of Prop. 25, the millions of us who can’t stand no-money furloughs, state I.O.U.s, hold-ups in our scholarship grant money, lay-offs, reductions-in-force, and other such niceties California has offered in recent years, this one was a goody to put on the ballot and to pass. The part about not paying legislators any salary or benefits every day beyond June 30 that they don’t pass a budget gets the thumbs up sign too.
But as in life, we may not get everything we pay for, but we must certainly pay for everything we get. Translated, this just means we win some and lose some.
Prop. 20 was a gigantic loss for the Black (and possibly Latino) population in California. The passage of that initiative made very probable the loss of the four congressional seats now occupied by Black elected officials, and if not all of them, certainly two of four or even three of four.
Why? This is no argument based on the possible or probable racism in the 14-member redistricting commission. Whether any of the 14 will be Black, Latino or Asian is basically irrelevant. The argument here is that since the new redistricting commission has a mandate to divide the United State Senate and House districts in California into roughly equal areas, based on population, maintaining the “communities of interest” part of the commission’s mandate will have to be a secondary, even tertiary, objective. In some of the 58 counties in California, there are areas with more cows than people, so arranging such territories into equivalent population districts will mean covering huge areas without any Black folks. Of those 58 counties, at least 20 have no appreciable (or discernible) Black population.
For sure, Blacks in California are much more urban than rural–the vast majority of the state’s African American population lives in the San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan districts. This fact is reflected in the four current Black U.S. congresspersons from California: Barbara Lee from the Bay area, and Karen Bass, Laura Richardson and Maxine Waters all representing the Long Beach/Los Angeles areas. These four represent 7.5 percent of California’s 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. That is more than the current Black percentage in the state population, which is 6.6 percent. But here is the point: Once the districts are re-apportioned (the federal level name for redistricting), unless current and future Black candidates become highly skilled at being elected in non-Black districts on a regular basis, Black congressional participation will become an extremely difficult mountain to climb in California, if not impossible.
This would be one of our outgoing governor’s most lasting legacies–the decimation of Black elected officials in California. Not that he aimed at that, mind you, this was just to get more Republicans elected in a Blue state. But guess who got caught in someone else’s trap?
The governor tried to get California voters to agree with him on a redistricting commission in 2005 (old Prop 77), but it got rejected. Then, to demonstrate the old adage in politics, if you can’t fool them the first time, just try, try again until they are not paying attention, he got Prop. 11 passed in 2008 which created the redistricting commission for Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization purposes. This took redistricting out of the hands of the elected legislators and the governor (who regularly fought over it because the legislators generally applied legal gerrymandering tricks to protect incumbents and carve out “communities of interest”).
A mantra of California Republicans has long been to establish a redistricting commission, and now they have it, and it’s even been expanded to high heaven–the U.S. Congress (but now they can’t control the state budget–remember, you pay for what you get).
For those politically astute among the Black California population, you and I had better get ready for a knock-down-drag-out battle in court over violations of the Voting Rights Act, which we anticipate from the redistricting commission, if we are to protect and preserve the electoral gains we’ve achieved through long, hard slogging in the trenches. We met the “enemy” at the voting booth and came away with one significant win and a soon-to-be escalated loss. Freedom only lasts for the vigilant–so we better get ready to rumble.
Professor David L. Horne, is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or Non Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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