Redistricting is a hot issuePublished 9:35pm Monday, December 12, 2011
The 2012 Legislative Session is looming. It begins in two months with the paramount issue being the reapportionment of their own legislative districts. All 105 House seats and all 35 Senate seats will be on the drawing board. They may have all been singing out of the same songbook last year but this issue will cross party lines. Redistricting gets personal. They will lay down their partisan badges when it comes to self preservation. As former Speaker of the House Jimmy Clark once told me, “Steve old boy the cardinal rule in political redistricting is you take care of yourself and the hell with everybody else.”
The U.S. Constitution and concurrently the Alabama Constitution clearly call for all congressional and legislative lines to be redrawn every 10 years so that each district has the same number of people. Thus, every man, woman and child has the same equal representation in congress and the legislature. That is why the census is taken every 10 years.
Our 1901 Alabama Constitution mirrors this mandate. However, Alabama ignored this basic law of the land for 70 years. Between 1901 and 1974 Alabama brazenly ignored this most basic tenet of American democracy. What is totally amazing is that over these 70 years nobody challenged Alabama in court. You could have written a simple one paragraph brief on a paper napkin and any court in the land would have ruled that Alabama was in blatant violation of the U.S. and its own 1901 Constitution.
It is well known and documented that the 1901 Constitution was written to disfranchise African Americans. However, most astute political historians know that it was also covertly intended to disfranchise poor whites as well. Deals were cut during the Constitutional Convention to give South Alabama Black Belt counties advantageous districts. However, the disparity became so pronounced over 50 years that the state legislative districts were so out of sync with the population that it was not only undemocratic and unfair the districts were so grossly aligned that they were comical. For example, a county in North Alabama, like Marshall, would have 100,000 people and one representative while a Black Belt county like Lowndes would have 15,000 people and two representatives.
As a 12 year old page I could see the unbelievable malapportionment when I observed the floor of the House. It was really incredible. One day I looked across the Chamber and watched a vote developing. The debate was a fight between Montgomery and fast growing Madison County, the home of Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal. The census figures had just come out and it appeared that Huntsville had overgrown Montgomery in population and had become the third most populous county in the state.
Our county car tags are numbered based on alphabetical order with Autauga being first. However, Autauga does not get number one, it gets to be number four because the first three places are reserved for the three largest counties. Therefore, Jefferson is number one, Mobile is number two and Montgomery is number three. Well, Madison wanted their rightful place and wanted their tags to begin with number three instead of their alphabetical number 47 but they lost that vote, which they rightfully should have won. Why? Because, as always, they were counted out by the South Alabama Black Belt counties who sided with their Black Belt neighbor, Montgomery.
After that vote the bizarre unfairness of this situation sunk in. My cursory observation of the scenario brought it home. At the turn of the century in 1901 Huntsville was a sleepy cotton town with 12,000 people and Madison County had about 25,000 folks. At that time my hometown of Troy was identical to Huntsville. Troy had 12,000 people and the County of Pike was 25,000. On the day of that vote Huntsville and Madison County had grown to 250,000 people. Pike County still had 25,000. Folks get this, Huntsville and Madison County had two representatives and we in Pike County also had two representatives. That is why the good people of North Alabama had been getting the short end of the stick on a lot more substantive issues than the number on their car tag.
It amazes me that it took 70 years for the federal courts to get involved. In the early 1970s the courts redrew the lines because the disregard for the Constitution discriminated against African Americans. It could very well be argued that white North Alabamians were more discriminated against than African Americans. Big Jim Folsom preached about this issue for over two decades in the hills and hollows of the Tennessee Valley. His cry was finally heard and resolved by the federal courts 40 years ago.