THE face of American government will change significantly in the
1990s - becoming more black, brown, and Asian - but not as
significantly as many activists would like.
That seems to be the early conclusion of what the all-important
decennial process of redistricting will mean for minority groups
across the country.
As lawmakers from Maine to California move through the sensitive
task of redrawing political boundaries, early snapshots show that
dozens of new black and Hispanic leaders could be elected to
offices at the state and federal level as a result of the way
districts are being refashioned.
But in many states, the gains have been less than minority
leaders believe they should be, and more quarreling and maneuvering
Already, Hispanic groups in Texas have challenged state
redistricting plans in court and similar suits may be filed by
groups in New Mexico and California. The United States Department
of Justice has returned the maps of several Southern states for not
creating more districts favorable to blacks.
While the redrawing is ongoing, minority groups offer these
assessments of the early dynamics:
*Latinos. Activists had hoped to double the number of Hispanics
in Congress, from 10 to 20. The way things are going so far,
however, there will be only six or seven new districts created
where Latinos will make up a majority of the population, and thus
possibly be elected to office.
In California, Hispanics were pushing for three new
Latino-majority districts. The Legislature created one, but,
because of a gubernatorial veto, the courts will likely redraw the
maps. Texas created two new Hispanic districts; New Mexico none.
"What we're seeing is not at all comparable to Latino
demographic growth over the last decade," says Arturo Vargas of the
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund; the Hispanic
population grew 9 million in the 1980s, to 23 million.
Similar disputes loom over boundaries for state legislative
offices. The Texas Legislature created seven fewer
Hispanic-majority districts than Latino activists had wanted, which
is one reason they are fighting the plan in court. Hispanics want
at least one more seat in California.
*Blacks. Leaders project that eight to 12 black congressional
districts will be created. Most will be in the South, but the
leaders hope to see favorable districts drawn in Philadelphia,
Boston, and New York City. Nationwide, blacks hold less than 2
percent of all elected positions while representing 12 percent of
the population. …