Nevada Redistricting Fight Being Shaped By Growing Latino Voters
Photo by Jude Joffe-Block.
LAS VEGAS Nevada grew by more than 700,000 people during the last decade, and almost half of that new population is Latino. The state as a whole is now one-quarter Hispanic. That growth means Nevada qualifies for a fourth congressional seat.
Some political players are now wondering: Should that new congressional district be a Latino majority district?
That question is shaping up to be a point of tension between the state’s political parties as they head into the polarized terrain of redistricting negotiations.
One of the advocates for a Latino district is Fernando Romero, president of the non-partisan Hispanics in Politics, a local organization that promotes Latino leadership. With a Hispanic majority, Romero said, his community could send a representative to Washington who would champion their priorities, like immigration reform.
“It would empower us to fight against racist legislation,” Romero said. “It is not ensuring us that we will get a Hispanic representative, but it does ensure us that we'll get somebody who supports our issues and supports our endeavors.”
And, he said, if Latinos don’t have one district where they are clustered together, and instead are spread out across multiple districts, they could not truly flex their political muscle.
“You dilute the flavor, you dilute the empowerment,” Romero said. “And that is what we don't want.”
But Romero's dream is more controversial than you might expect. Other Latino leaders worry it would have the effect of packing all of Southern Nevada's Latino voters into just one district. Andres Ramirez, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus, says such a plan could backfire.
“If all the Hispanics are packed into one district, then the other three congressional districts that have elected officials would not in essence have to campaign, or worry, or represent the interests of that community,” Ramirez said.
Redistricting is by nature a partisan endeavor. Nevada’s Latinos have voted mostly Democrat in the past, and were key to re-electing Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. Creating one very Latino, very Democratic district, would likely benefit Republicans by making the remaining districts more amenable to GOP candidates. Perhaps it is not surprising then that Republicans have embraced the idea of a Latino district.
“It’s supposed to be one person one vote. Everybody's vote is supposed to kinda count for the same,” said Mark Amodei, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party. “If you have got one in four people of Hispanic heritage in the state, then you probably ought to give them a chance to elect their folks as one of the four congressional representatives.”
Amodei admitted his party failed to court Nevada’s Latinos adequately in past elections. But he said that will change in 2012.
“Perhaps we weren't as quick on the uptake on some of this stuff in the past, and there is no reason why we shouldn't fix that in the future, so we are endeavoring to do that,“ Amodei said.
Meanwhile, Hispanic Democratic legislators have gone on the offensive, arguing that the Republicans' true intention is not to empower Latinos, but to dilute the voice of minority voters by packing them into just one district.
“For several years now the Republican Party hasn't had a lot of interest in the Latino community,” said state senator Mo Denis, who heads the Hispanic Legislative Caucus. “With all the rhetoric — the-anti immigrant — that type of rhetoric that has come about, now all of a sudden they are interested in the Latino community. And it just happens to be at a time when we are doing redistricting.”
If Nevada's Latino population were just a bit bigger and a bit more concentrated - there might be little to debate. Under those circumstances, the federal Voting Rights Act would likely require the state to draw a Latino majority district to protect that minority community’s voting power.
But for that mandate to apply, it would have to be possible to draw a district in Nevada where 50 percent of the voters are Hispanic.
The 2010 census shows that there are 716,501 Latinos in the state. And since each of the state’s four congressional districts must include about 675,000 people, it is feasible to draw a district in Clark County — Nevada’s most populous — that is more than 50 percent Latinos.
Among those Latinos would be children and non-citizens who can’t vote. It would likely be impossible to draw a cohesive, compact district where the majority of voters are Latinos.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that the [Latino] community isn’t sufficiently large enough to mandate a congressional district under the federal Voting Rights Act,” said Steven Ochoa, the national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.
Without a legal mandate from the feds to draw a Latino district, how Nevada’s Latinos will be divvied up will depend on whatever deal the Democrat controlled legislature and the Republican Governor come up with by June.
If not, the matter could be settled by a judge. Even before there is a formal redistricting proposal on the table, both parties have already filed pre-emptive legal motions.