The district voting lawsuit in Fayette County is a heartbreaking tale of personal appetites exceeding legal limitations.
The plaintiffs argue a district voting scenario ought to exist no matter how bizarre the gerrymandered boundaries look, completely disregarding the Gingles tripartite test (Thornburg vs. Gingles, 1985), which states a minority group must show “that it is sufficiently large and geographically compact” to “constitute a majority in a single-member district.”
Consequently, the peculiar boundaries snake down a road and pick up an African-American household here, exclude adjacent property, snake down another road and pick up another African-American household there — all across a county that is not geographically compact, and demonstrating the population is not sufficiently large.
The irony is not lost that many of the well-off plaintiffs left areas where minority-majority district voting was in place only to inhabit self-segregated, affluent, black suburban neighborhoods in Fayette, demanding their own separate but equal African-American voting district. Is the emphasis on civil rights or exclusivity?
Even with excessive gerrymandering, a “majority” was achieved by a mere 35 voters, taking a great deal of judicial imagination to claim a Gingles tripartite test victory.
The NAACP plaintiffs complain about their legal fees, and rightly so, since their attorneys have charged almost double the county’s legal fees, and we are using one of the best law firms in the state. They claim their extraordinarily high legal tab somehow impacts the merit of the county defending the lawsuit.
As someone from a mixed-race family, a former NAACP member and a proven advocate of non-discrimination in our community, I cannot support redistricting abuses for anyone of any race.
To maintain harmony, the former board of commissioners offered the NAACP a district voting proposal, and it was rejected. Next, on behalf of the board of commissioners, I asked to meet with the plaintiffs, with no attorneys in the room, to see if a resolution could be advanced, and the NAACP plaintiffs flatly rejected the offer to meet.
I developed a solution citizens on both the district voting side and at-large voting side agree is workable. Several weeks ago, I made an offer for both sides to come together to examine the proposal in an attempt to resolve the matter before it goes to trial. To date, I have received zero response from the plaintiffs.
The party that shrieks the loudest shows the least enthusiasm for cooperative resolution.
This is 2015, and there are no poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses or voter intimidation. Their real enemy is the voter apathy that pervades the ranks of African-American registered voters.
I hope the anniversary of the march on Selma will serve as a reminder that civil rights legislation without citizen action is futile. Selma’s (Dallas County’s) overwhelming African-American population is suffering from poverty rates over 36 percent, with 60 percent of children under the poverty line, high unemployment and a poorly educated population. We have reason to pause.
When our population over age 45 dies out and racism is no longer a cottage industry for the likes of Al Sharpton, perhaps our nation will begin addressing the social, political and economic consequences of not viewing ourselves as one people, joining hands and moving the country forward.
Steve Brown is a Fayette County commissioner and former board chairman.
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