“There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” – Nigel Powers, Austin Powers in Goldmember
There’s a great little dispute brewing in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA. Apparently, a number of cities just outside of Atlanta and the beltway were created in the mid-to-late 2000s, and are [gasp] majority white. A lawsuit filed by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is seeking to dissolve those cities, claiming they were only created to make “super-majority white” voting districts (story here). It’s hard to know where to begin. One thing is for sure – I will be getting snarky before this is over.
First, let me note that I actually view these as political issues, not a racial issues. I honestly don’t even see this as a voting-rights issue (more on this later), but if it were then it is much more of a liberal-versus-conservative issue, than a black-versus-white one. Having laid the appropriate disclaimer, let’s dive in, shall we.
At the end of this, we will get to the real issue – which is fundamentally plain to see. But before that we need to dismiss several fake issues raised by the plaintiffs.
Dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Arguments
First, there is an argument that these districts serve to dilute minority votes. Hmmm. This is either slickly worded to be technically correct while clouding the point, or just plain stupid in its inability to grasp the concept of gerrymandering. In a good gerrymander, you create highly dense districts of opposition voters, forcing them to share representation while you can win narrow elections in more districts. Forming “super-majority” districts does not help those in the new super majority … so the argument could be just plain stupid.
On that note though, it is a bit difficult to see these as massive super majorities. According to the article, the white-black population percentages are as follows (I’m rounding): Dunwoody (70-13), Sandy Springs (65-20), Milton (77-9), Johns Creek (64-9), Chatahoochee Hills (69-28). The United States as a whole (72-13), and the state of Georgia (68-29). So, Sandy Springs and Chatahoochee Hills are reasonably close to the state average, while Dunwoody, Milton, and Johns Creek are close to the national average.
Having said that, there is a more subtle argument, that should be phrased differently. Perhaps, by generating the new districts, the real impact is to create other super-majority black districts (err, cities), which does indeed put black voters at a comparative disadvantage. But, if this is the argument, then why not make the argument that way? It is disingenuous to claim that creating a super-majority district is an unfair advantage for the new majority white voters. And, even if it were so, then how do these gentlemen defend the long-held practice of creating super-majority districts for African Americans, in an attempt to bolster their representation in various legislative bodies? (The old saying goes “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”)
(Again though, this isn’t the real issue – and it gets difficult to logically argue against a straw man.)
To justify some of the more convoluted reasoning behind the suit, the plaintiffs uttered a few naively tendentious double-standards … or perhaps they just told a few whoppers.
Consider: “This suit is based on the idea that African Americans and other minorities can elect the people of their choice” – Democratic State Sen. Vincent Fort. So, Mr. Fort, is your claim that if your candidate loses an election your voting rights have been violated? I suspect conservatives in Oregon would like to know why they can never get anybody elected. Don’t they have voting rights too? Not by your definition. By the way, if the new districts are super-majority white, leaving super-majority black districts on the other side … then African Americans can elect people of their choice.
(This, of course, is one of the dangers of democracy. When we have “mob rule” winning matters a ton. When, all of a sudden, you can’t win every race, then it’s not so great.)
Here’s another interesting quote: “The Voting Rights Act forbids a state from doing anything that affects the voting rights of minorities, except with a permissible purpose” – lead attorney for the plantiffs, Jerome Lee. I love the vague “permissible purpose” here. You can only affect the voting rights of minorities for a permissible purpose. No mention of what those purposes are.
The Real Issue
The real issue here is clearly political. Consider what law professor Michael Kang has to say: “If we look at this realistically, there is some white flight going on. The creation of these Sandy Springs-type cities enables white voters to get away from black voters.” Now, this is an interesting issue. To rephrase, white voters have become dissatisfied with governance in Atlanta. They are in a clear minority status in Dekalb county, and about an even split in Fulton county. So, they left (“white flight”) and formed a new city to govern a different way.
If I’m reading between the lines effectively on Kang’s statement, it appears that the majority African Americans in Dekalb and Fulton county had a useful population base of white citizens, which gave them electoral clout (lots of people), without threatening control. This is a good situation. Even this doesn’t appear to hold up though. As far as I can tell, no federal or state congressional districts are impacted by these cities – it is just local governance that has changed.
So why all the fuss? Is it truly the belief of the plaintiffs that forming new cities that move some people from political majority to political minority violates their voting rights? (We’ve already noted, this is just flat out wrong.) No, this issue is far deeper and far more simple. I couldn’t find data for all municipalities involved, but I did dig up the following median household incomes: Dunwoody($82,838), Sandy Springs ($67,120), Fulton County ($49,321). That’s right, there’s money involved.
You see, it’s not so much that the folks who formed the new cities were white, it’s that they were wealthy (or had high incomes). The loss of tax revenues puts a serious strain on city and county budgets – especially those budgets that have been mismanaged and have thrived on using government largess to secure a stable voting base (read, liberal governments … conservative kickbacks are usually unrelated to voting base).
“White flight” – people who no longer like the governance, but have limited political means to change it, start to walk off and leave and form a new government to better represent them and promote their wishes. Sounds familiar … “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Naturally, arguments of “hey, you can’t incorporate, we need to tax you to provide services for the less fortunate” tend to carry little weight. No, better to make the whole thing about race, since it’s always a hot button issue.
Freedom from Bad Ideas
In the grand scheme, I suppose this points to much of the difficulties of progressivism (I’m shoehorning this argument a bit – admittedly). If your ideals only survive when people have no other choice, then they’re not very good ideals. Tax-and-spend governance only survives when the productive citizens have no alternatives. When productive people can move elsewhere (or in this case incorporate) to keep more of their productivity, then they will.
If collectivism were such a panacea, then collective entities would thrive and attract more people – even the wealthy and productive ones. If these policies actually worked when it comes to creating a better society, then people would freely choose to participate, even if it means higher taxes. The policies don’t work though, so proponents must throw up barriers to exit. It has always been this way with communist regimes the world over, and is now starting to show itself ever more with left-leaning governance here in the United States.
As the budget crunch in cities and states tightens, I suspect we’ll see more of these type of flails in an attempt to garner more revenue from those who have figured out how to make a run for it.