Corrupt Republican Power Grab

Dead men talk, it turns out, telling interesting tales of political chicanery and cynicism. And, if the dead man has an estranged daughter, well, his secrets do not last long.

Death and a divided family yielded the evidence to confirm what suspicious political junkies knew all along: The Trump administration is attempting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census to give Republicans and white voters a specific electoral advantage. The ploy is yet another attempt by conservatives — unable to win at the ballot box — to change the rules in order to preserve power. 

Thomas Hofeller

The incriminating information was found in the files of Thomas Hofeller, a Republican redistricting strategist who died last August. According to lawyers representing plaintiffs challenging the census question, Hofeller “played a significant role in orchestrating the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census in order to create a structural electoral advantage for, in his own words, ‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’” The lawyers directed their letter to District Judge Jesse Furman, one of three federal judges who ruled against the admission of the question last year. The lawyers also said the Trump administration deliberately hid Hofeller’s role during earlier court proceedings. 

The newly discovered information on Hofeller’s hard drives was found by Stephanie Hofeller Lizon who then shared them with Common Cause for use in a lawsuit challenging gerrymandering in North Carolina. Files on the drives show that Hofeller wrote a study in 2015 arguing that inclusion of a citizenship question in the census would enable Republicans to increase their legislative representation at the expense of Democrats by drawing even more extremely gerrymandered maps. Even more cynically, Hofeller claimed the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — using the act that guaranteed equal access to the ballot to give the Trump administration the rationale to include the census question. 

The disclosures prove the administration wants to add the question to the 2020 census to help Republicans win more seats in Congress. The Justice Department, to no one’s surprise, says Hofeller’s study “played no role in the department’s December 2017 request to reinstate a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial census.” In arguments before the Supreme Court in April over the issue, the Justice Department claimed the benefits of obtaining accurate data on citizenship offsets any damage caused by the reluctance of minority groups and noncitizens to participate in a census containing a question on citizenship.

A citizenship question would discourage noncitizens — both legal and illegal residents — from participating in the census. That undercount — in favor of white voters — would skew money and political power from urban to rural areas. Knowing the number and location of noncitizens would allow states to exclude them from population totals used after every census to redraw political maps. Using citizen population as the basis for those maps would yield an electorate less diverse than the nation at large, an electorate more likely to vote Republican.

The Hofeller argument — and its adoption by the Trump administration — is intentionally racist. The attempt by Republicans to use the census to insure the political power of white voters reflects the continuing fear of a changing and more diverse America. It is further evidence that racial resentment is the primary indicator of support for President Donald Trump. Not all Trump voters are racist; but many fear losing their dominance. The day is not far off — only a few decades away — when nonwhites will be a majority in this country. The Hofeller plan is part of a tactic geared to delaying that future new majority’s political power.  

Using the census for such crass political purposes upends the goal of achieving an accurate decennial count. As indicated, the census has a political component: It determines the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. But the census is used for much more than that. It determines the distribution of federal funding for such differing programs as aiding the elderly, building new roads, erecting new schools, contributing to neighborhood improvements, and assisting in improving public health, all goals requiring an accurate count of where all who live in America reside.

Republicans appear willing to sacrifice the sanctity of the census to preserve political power. The inclusion of the citizenship question is one more piece of evidence that Republicans are unwilling to play by the rules that have governed American politics for generations. The modern Republican Party’s mantra is clear: If it cannot win fair and square, then it changes the rules.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s cynical manipulation of the president’s right to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court is a case-in-point. He is so cynical that he was willing to change the rules in 2016 to deny President Barack Obama his constitutional prerogative and, then, turn around and say that in 2020 he wants to play by the old rules again. The only thing that changed was the political party of the incumbent president. Another instance of this is the repeated attempts — at the state and national level (remember Trump’s ill-fated Presidential Advisory Committee on Voter Integrity?)— by Republicans to require voter ID cards to frustrate electoral turnout. These laws are intended to frustrate voting by minority groups and the young who are more likely to support Democrats. Paul Weyrich, the first director of the conservative Heritage Foundation, described the motivation behind voter suppression efforts. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” said Weyrich. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Weyrich spoke in generalities; Pennsylvania Republican Mike Turzai spoke in specifics when he said in 2012, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” It did not, but not for want of trying.

Lord Accton

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said British politician Lord Acton. Republicans know that in free and fair elections they lose, especially as the nation’s demographics continue to change. To frustrate the inevitable, many Republicans are willing to act absolutely corruptly.

Posted June 7, 2019

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