Saturday, December 23, 2006

Growth trends could mean power shift in Congress after 2010 Census

Growth trends could mean power shift in Congress after 2010 Census
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Two weeks before Democrats take control of the U.S. House for the first time in 12 years, new Census estimates suggest they may have to battle demographic tides to keep it.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Texas and Utah are projected to gain seats in Congress after the 2010 Census, according to an analysis by Election Data Services. All six tilt Republican: President Bush won all in 2004, ranging from 50% of the vote in Nevada to 72% in Utah.

CENSUS FIGURES RELEASED: Southern growth leads USA

Even more significant, Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office in five of those states, which gives the party the upper hand when state elected officials redraw congressional district lines every decade. (Arizona relies on a non-partisan commission.)

"It's always about exactly how the lines are drawn and who's drawing the lines," said Stuart Rothenberg, a non-partisan political analyst. He said the latest Census figures showing population growth in the South "have got to please Republicans and strike fear into the hearts of Democrats."

The picture may not be entirely bleak for Democrats in the long term, said Charles Cook, another independent political analyst.

"Arizona is trending less Republican; Nevada is becoming less Republican. Within a decade, Texas will be a purple state," Cook said. He was referring to the color codes used to describe states' leanings: red for Republican, blue for Democratic and purple for swing states.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who will head his party's House campaign committee next year, said he's not dismayed by the Census projections. He said 21 freshman Democrats who won in the elections Nov. 7 did so in districts Bush carried in 2004.

"Democrats have shown they can compete in red states," he said. Van Hollen also noted that the population growth in boom states such as Florida and Texas has been fueled by Hispanic immigration. "Hispanics have voted in large numbers for Democrats," he said.

Gerald Hebert, a Democratic redistricting expert, said Republicans have drawn such unfavorable congressional boundaries for Democrats in Florida and Texas that "it's hard for me to imagine how Democrats could do worse."

Hebert said efforts are underway in several states, including Texas, California and Florida, to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and assign it to a non-partisan commission, as Arizona and five other states do. "I think Americans want voters to choose the politicians and not the politicians choosing which voters they want," Hebert said.

The new Census figures may also provide momentum for legislation that would give Utah an additional House seat before 2010. In return, residents of the predominantly Democratic District of Columbia, now without a House vote, would get one. The proposal by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., would permanently increase the size of the House of Representatives by two seats, from 435 to 437.

Utah barely missed qualifying for an additional House seat after the last Census. Gov. Jon Huntsman said the federal government did not count some Mormon missionaries who were out of state. At his urging, the state Legislature approved a redistricting plan this month that would be used if the state was given another House seat.

The Utah-District of Columbia deal is in limbo because House Republican leaders did not take up the legislation before adjourning. Davis intends to make the measure the first bill he introduces when the new Congress convenes Jan. 4, and hopes incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be more sympathetic, said David Marin, Davis' chief of staff.

Mike Mower, a spokesman for Huntsman, said the governor shares that hope. "We feel the new Census numbers underscore the fact that Utah should have had a seat in the last count," he said.