The Covert Agenda of The Tea Party
by Dr. Byron Price
By 2042, the census bureau forecasts that minorities will become the majority population in the U.S. That means 32 years from now, the U.S. will no longer be a majority white population. An implication of an increasing minority population is less political power for whites and more for minorities. President Obama’s election for some is an ominous sign that their political power is diminishing and there is nothing they can do about it except to rail against abortion, immigration, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and challenge the presidents’ citizenship.
The Tea Party Movement is a clarion call for whites in the U.S. who fear the impending majority-minority planet the middle of the century will bring to the United States. The impetus for their movement (Tea Party) is purportedly fiscal conservatism, but this is disingenuous considering President Obama inherited President Bush’s mind-numbing deficit. Their benign silence toward President Bush’s fiscal and monetary policy versus their vehement opposition to President Obama’s fiscal and monetary policy unmasks their fear of a majority-minority planet.
Before tackling how the census helps the majority population maintain political power, an introduction of minority-majority states is apropos. Four states and the District of Columbia can be characterized as majority-minority. California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas are the majority-minority states presently, meaning that there are more minorities who reside in that state than whites.
Consider as well that the U.S. Census Bureau projected in 2005 that Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York, and Arizona are the next states to become majority-minority states because each of the states in 2005 had minority populations of about 40 percent according the census. A 2007 update from the census adds Florida and Nevada as states joining the majority-minority status by 2025.
One final example to embellish the point is a report by Hope Yen of the Associated Press who interviews Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire and reports that the study he co-published found that “1 in 10 of the nation’s 3,142 counties already have minority populations greater than 50 percent”. His study, as Yen reports, also finds that “1 in 4 communities have more minority children than white children or are nearing that point”.
The implications here is that soon-to-be former red states such as Texas, which is almost purple and soon-to be-blue should see political power swing and possibly its conservatism dissipating as well in the future. However, the census effectively circumvents population gains by minorities by using prison-based gerrymandering. How so? The U.S. Census counts prisoners where they are incarcerated instead of where they are from. By exploiting this quirk in the census, many states do not remove prison populations prior to redistricting. Thus, when states count prisoners, they draw state and county legislative districts to their benefit and to the disadvantage of everyone else in that state or county.
This practice is unconstitutional and flies in the face of the constitutional principle of one-person one vote. New York Senate District 34 is a good case study regarding how the counting of prisoners dilutes the voting strength of blacks and Hispanics.
This practice is even more sinister when you consider that the inmates who are counted cannot vote while incarcerated and they add to the power of politicians who do not represent their interest. Brenda Wright, a Boston-based voting rights attorney characterizes this process as the “three-fifths” compromise because, in the late eighteenth century, the South benefited in regards to gaining political power because slaves could not vote and in today’s contemporary society, prisoners play a similar role. Legislators with prisoners in their districts are benefiting from the fact that those prisoners cannot vote and, as a result, gain power. Prison-based gerrymandering must end.
Felony disenfranchisement is another mechanism which thwarts any potential political gains minorities achieve based on population gains. Most lay people are unaware that “48 states and the District of Columbia prohibit inmates from voting while incarcerated for a felony offense and only two states – Maine and Vermont – permit inmates to vote.” The Sentencing Project provides the following examples to support the assertion in this paper and they are as follows:
· 1.4 million African American men, or 13% of black men, are disenfranchised, a rate seven times the national average.
· Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next generation of black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime.
· In states that disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40% of black men may permanently lose their right to vote.
Of the three major minority groups, felony disenfranchisement laws affect African-American men the most. This practice really hits home when you consider that the majority-minority states of California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas and the District of Columbia all revoke the right to vote while incarcerated. New Mexico and Texas revoke the right to vote while in prison and if you are on probation and parole—time bound. California and Hawaii does not deny the right to vote while on probation. However, the next states to become majority-minority—all but New York does not deny the right to vote while on probation but the others deny the right to vote if you are in prison or on probation or parole.
New York denies the right to vote if in prison and on parole as well. Given that “1 in 36 Hispanic men ages 18 or older is incarcerated; 1 in 15 Black men ages 18 and older is incarcerated and Black men ages 20-34 1 in 9 is incarcerated; Hispanic women ages 35-39 1 in 297 is incarcerated; and Black women ages 35-39 1 in 100 is incarcerated”3. You get the picture.
The Drug Policy Foundation found that on any given day 1 in 3 black men is either in prison, on probation or parole. So incarceration, the census and felony disenfranchisement appear to be effective mechanisms to forestall the transfer of political power to minorities although those states have become majority-minority states. If the current practices and policies are not repudiated, majority-minority states will not realize their new-found political power the middle of the century is expected to bring.
Dr. Byron E. Price is a professor of political science at Texas Southern University and is the author of Merchandising Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization.