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House Democrats could endure an unprecedented number of primaries this cycle that pit white and black Members against each other thanks to redistricting.
The emerging Member-vs.-Member contests stand to stir tensions between the Congressional Black Caucus and the broader Democratic ranks as well as fracture state delegations.
Republicans controlled redistricting in many high-stakes states this cycle, giving Democrats little say in the makeup of the new districts. Recently passed maps in Michigan, Missouri, California and other states will likely force races between white and minority Democrats.
“It’s infinitely easier to put an urban district, which is represented by an
African-American, with a suburban Democratic district and force a shoot-out among people who philosophically are twins,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “That creates an awkward situation inside the Democratic Caucus.”
The tension boiled over in the Illinois delegation last week. Months after local Democrats passed an aggressive new Congressional map, the delegation’s three black Democrats publicly questioned whether it complies with minority representation standards set forth in the Voting Rights Act.
But Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his colleagues are not questioning whether their own majority black districts pass muster. Jackson said he thinks the Latino population may be large enough to create a second majority Hispanic district in addition to that of Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Another such district would dilute Gutierrez’s base.
Other Illinois Democrats — especially Gutierrez — are furious that he’s bringing up these concerns months after the mapmaking process. Jackson’s concerns also play into a Republican lawsuit to overturn the map.
Tension between the two Illinois Members spilled onto the House floor last week when Gutierrez angrily confronted Jackson Thursday during votes. On Friday, one Member described a palpable hostility between Jackson and Gutierrez on the floor. At one moment, Gutierrez walked toward Jackson, who immediately stood up and walked the other way.
Gutierrez didn’t want to comment on the situation with Jackson, declining to make eye contact during most of a brief interview.
“I don’t want to just shoot off at the mouth as some Congressmen do,” Gutierrez said. “I want to carefully consider, otherwise those who speak without carefully considering what they have to say, come off as buffoons, and I certainly don’t want that.”
Much of the racial tension is the result of bad political luck because the GOP controls most of the remapping efforts this cycle. But population movement provoked these circumstances in many states.
As urban population has declined in the past decade, more districts represented by black Members have been pushed into the suburbs — and into the districts held by white Democratic colleagues.