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Redistricting: The Battle Lines Run Right Through The Democratic Party


Washington Outlook

REDISTRICTING: THE BATTLE LINES RUN RIGHT THROUGH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Whatever their problems on the national scene, Democrats have always prided themselves on their grass-roots strength. But their grip on state legislatures is being shaken by a nasty redistricting battle. The struggle pits black against white, city against suburb, and Democrat against Democrat.

The first skirmish of this new civil war is being fought in Virginia, a state with the nation's only black governor and a nearly all-white legislature. The state senate has just sent Democratic Governor L. Douglas Wilder a redistricting plan that he thinks doesn't go far enough to increase minority representation. The governor says the new map "turns back the clock" on voting rights, and he's almost certain to veto it.

SMALL VOICE. Virginia, one of only two states holding legislative elections this fall, is under intense pressure to draw new districts reflecting census data released on Apr. 1. Growth has exploded in the Washington suburbs and the Norfolk area, while Richmond and the sparsely populated west have shrunk. Blacks, who make up 19% of the population, feel badly underrepresented. "We're tired of black folks getting soda when they should have champagne," says Jack W. Gravely, president of the Virginia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Virginia's House Democrats, with a 59 to 39 edge, drew up a plan that both satisfies blacks and forces many Republican incumbents to run against one another. Wilder is likely to accept it. But he objects to the Senate map, which creates only one new black district. Civil rights leaders argue that under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, three majority-black Senate districts should be added to the two that exist. Stephen D. Haner, director of the General Assembly's Joint Republican Caucus, derides the Senate plan as "the descendants of the planter class fighting the last battle of the Civil War."

Haner, like GOP leaders in many of the largest states, sees a partisan advantage for his party by making common cause with blacks and Hispanics. "Creation of black districts is helpful to us," says Thomas B. Hofeller, redistricting director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. It leaves adjoining districts with fewer liberals "and opens up opportunities for Republicans."

The GOP's newfound interest in black empowerment has left Virginia's Democratic barons fuming. "This is a political alliance for political purposes and, tragically, not for racial justice," says Joseph V. Gartlan, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee. Senator Yvonne B. Miller, a black Norfolk Democrat, responds that victory depends on coalition building. "It's ironic that I'm now being accused of having learned that lesson very well."

POOR PROSPECTS. Wilder, who is barred by law from a second term as governor and who has formed a committee to explore a Presidential bid, has nothing to lose by taking on his fellow Democrats. Other governors don't have that luxury. In Arkansas, for example, Democrat Bill Clinton faces a nasty dilemma over congressional redistricting. The legislature failed to create a minority district, instead protecting two white Democratic incumbents, Beryl F. Anthony Jr. and Bill Alexander. If Clinton accepts the plan, then blacks vow to challenge it in court.

Such unpleasantness will dominate state capitals in the coming months. Democrats have counted on their legislative strength to provide some compensation for their poor Presidential prospects in 1992. But racial conflict within the party could fuel GOP gains both in Congress and in state capitols. It looks as if the Democrats will spend the next year and a half nursing wounds suffered in the redistricting wars.Edited by Stephen H. Wildstrom; Paula Dwyer in RichmondReturn to top

REDISTRICTING: THE BATTLE LINES RUN RIGHT THROUGH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

The race for the Senate seat left open by the plane-crash death of Pennsylvania Republican H. John Heinz III is rapidly heating up. Friends say that Democratic Governor Robert P. Casey will probably fill the seatwith a caretaker who won't run in a special election this fall for thetwo years remaining in Heinz's term. That would clear the way for a wide-open contest. U. S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a two-term GOP governor, would be the instant favoriteif he runs. Other Republican possi-bles include Representative Thomas J. Ridge and former Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis. Among Democrats, House Majority Whip William H. Gray III may be interested. But Gray, a black Philadelphian, is seeking a seat traditionally belonging to pols from western Pennsylvania.Edited by Stephen H. WildstromReturn to top


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