Our view: Politics enter the redistricting picture, imagine that

June 6, 2012 10:40:40 AM



To understand a thing, you must first understand its nature. 


When a person kills another person it is generally considered a criminal act. 


But when a cat kills a mouse, no one considers it a crime (aside from the mouse, of course). The cat is not regarded as a murderer. It is simply being true to its cat nature. Allowances are made for that. 


On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council formally adopted the plan it initially approved in May. That plan, drawn up after several council work sessions by the Oxford consulting firm of Bridge and Watson, was approved 4-1 Tuesday. Previously, the vote in favor of the plan had been 4-2.  


As the process goes, there was little to suggest that the redistricting would be contentious. U.S. Department of Justice rules make it pretty difficult to pull any shady stuff, especially when it comes to the often delicate matter of race. Simply put, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, along with its subsequent revisions, carefully guard the interests of minorities when it comes to redistricting. Those rules, however, do allow some room for political maneuvering. This is America, after all. 


Even so, the plan adopted by the council certainly appears to meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of the law. Consider the race demographics and compare them to how they are reflected in the plan. Columbus is 60 percent black. Under the plan, in four of the six wards, there would be a minority majority. This seems reasonable. It obviously was reasonable in 2000, when the Department of Justice approved a plan that is, essentially, the same as the one the council adopted Tuesday. 


This year, the redistricting amounts to little more than drawing a few more lines on map. A few folks may have to drive another block or two to vote, but that's about it. 


Yes. The process should have been easy-breezy, leaving the council to focus its energy on more pressing matters. 


To think that would be to fail to understand the nature of the thing. This is politics and politicians will be true to their politician nature. 


So, naturally, the process was complicated. Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem presented an alternate plan in much the same manner a person plants kudzu - he dropped it and ran. He stayed only a few minutes to explain the plan and then was off to another engagement. 


It must have been an awfully important engagement, we assume. 


Ultimately, the battle is over Ward 2. Under the council's plan, the ward's black majority would have stayed the same at 56.2 percent. Opponents of the plan would like to push that percentage higher by about 10 percentage points. Presumably, this would make it more likely for a black candidate, such as incumbent Joseph Mickens, to secure the council seat. 


Both plans will be submitted to the DOJ.  


Both plans have flaws.  


It would not be surprising if the DOJ said no to both plans, in fact. 


Each flaw was revealed in Tuesday's meeting. The DOJ is big on public input. So, when the council voted to stick with its original plan on the same night the alternate plan was presented in the first and only public hearing on the matter, it calls into question as to whether the alternate plan received a fair hearing.  


"Thank you," the council seemed to say. "You have truly given us much to ignore." 


So the council's plan is undermined by the appearance that it only paid lip service to a plan presented by the public. 


On the other hand, the alternate plan is deeply flawed in its own right. Essentially, it amounts to redistricting by race. In fact, race seems to be the only criteria considered by those who put together the alternate plan. That's a big no-no. 


So it's really a muddled mess in the end. 


Ah, but that's politics.  


And that's the nature of it.