Op-ed – Black Lawmakers Are Under Attack
By U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and California State Senator Steven Bradford
Time is running short and hard decisions will soon be made that would negatively affect the future for African Americans for the next 10-years and possibly longer. Appointed government officials have released new redistricting plans that would nearly wipe-out Black elected officials serving Los Angeles County residents in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Why are these appointed government officials doing this? Apparently, they believe they can do what they want to do, and no one will care enough to challenge them. They think they know better than the residents and they have disregarded the thoughtful work of redistricting efforts from past cycles.
Average working families don’t typically pay close attention to our state’s once-a-decade redistricting process, a governmental exercise in which new maps are drawn that would determine the makeup of cities and communities-of-interest exist to establish balanced elected representation based on data gathered through the U.S. Census count we all had an opportunity to participate in.
But last year’s 2020 U.S. Census occurred during the height of our COVID-19 pandemic marked by public health lockdowns and a hurried finish ordered by former president Donald J. Trump. So, we can’t be certain that all Black people in California and L.A. County who needed to be counted, were counted in the Census survey last year.
But, despite the roadblocks, barriers, and interference that happened last year, the 2020 Census won’t get a redo. The drawing of new maps to determine new state legislative and Congressional districts based on the Census is on a fast-track to completion next month. Why should this be important to you? It’s simple, really.
As it currently stands, only one African American elected member in Congress may survive the 2021 redistricting process in L.A. County. The new maps prepared by the appointed government officials responsible for drawing new district lines can best be described as an onslaught against Black elected officials in L.A. County.
Worse still, our Black state legislators would be pitted against one another as their current electoral districts are sliced, diced, collapsed, or merged by appointed government officials.
The loss of Black elected representation would be worsened further by the expropriation of major public and private assets in the districts Black officeholders would represent – such as colleges and universities, and major employers such as hospitals and healthcare systems – that would be stripped away to be parceled-out by appointed government officials working to create the new electoral districts.
It’s tantamount to political eminent domain without being granted any fair market value political return. And if this unfair and unjust redistricting process is allowed to stand and be made final in December, it could spell the end to decades of significant Black political influence in our State Capitol and U.S. Capitol. It could spell the end to Black economic influence and self-determination in our own communities and neighborhoods that might trigger an economic investment drought that could persist for the foreseeable future.
We need new district maps drawn that place a high value on keeping our communities-of-interest intact and that preserve our communities’ valuable economic assets that provide needed leverage to encourage community investment and development.
As it now stands, the impact of these planned electoral district changes can only be described as dire. And since these new district configurations would remain unchanged for 10-years, the damage would be lasting. unless Black voters do something now to stop them.
If Black voters act now, we have a chance to preserve what we built with our votes over the past 40-years. Think of the progress we’ve made solely because we had Black lawmakers looking after our interests and fighting for our future.
Think of the pressing concerns that would have gone unaddressed if we hadn’t had Black elected officials in our state and nation’s Capitols working hard on our behalf to persuade other elected leaders to take our concerns seriously and pass public policies that benefit all Californians while meeting the needs of Black Californians. MLK Hospital, Charles Drew University, the Expo Line, a revitalized LAX are a few examples of the work Black elected officials have done to bring needed assets into our communities.
Your vote on legislative matters is about to be snatched from you. Your voice in our state and national corridors of power will be silenced unless you speak up now to halt this brazen attack on our trusted, experienced, and respected Black elected leaders.
What can you do, you ask? You can repel this attack by making your voice heard before the new electoral district maps are finalized. The new maps are being reviewed by legal experts to determine if they violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protects the rights of Black voters from having their voting power diluted to the point of powerlessness.
The new maps may become final in December. Over the next two weeks, the California Redistricting Commission will hear from the public and take comments on their maps. It is imperative that they hear from you.
It’s time to stop the new Census redistricting maps that would erase you from the equation of equal representation. Now is the time to act.
U.S. Rep. Bass represents California’s 37th Congressional District. Sen. Bradford, chair, California Legislative Black Caucus represents the state’s 35th Senate District.