By Kyle Whitmire, 2023 Pulitzer Prize winner in Commentary Journalist
This is an opinion column.
Give state Rep. Chris Pringle a little credit. The Republican lawmaker from Mobile tried to do what he thought was fair. This time, at least.
In Alabama, that’s rare.
By doing so, he might have proven that Republicans played dirty — again — when drawing the state’s latest congressional map.
Pringle co-chairs the Alabama Legislature’s joint redistricting committee, which draws the state’s congressional districts.
Lately, that committee has been busier than usual. First, it drew a map in 2021. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court said that map violated the Voting Rights Act, and the committee had to draw another one.
Before the special legislative session was over in July, the Legislature drew two — a House-approved map and a Senate-approved map.
Actually, the Senate map came not from the Senate but from the Alabama solicitor general, Edmund LaCour. He’s the lawyer leading the state’s stubborn attack on the Voting Rights Act. The Senators let him do their work and then put their names on it.
Downstairs at the State House, Pringle and a consultant drew the House version.
Neither of the maps created a second majority-Black congressional district, but Pringle’s map did something perhaps more unusual in Alabama — it created a purple, competitive district.
In a deposition earlier this month, Pringle said he thought his map satisfied the federal court’s mandate that Alabama draw a fair map where Black voters would have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing.
Q. So the performance analysis that you received from — from Dr. Hood, do you recall what it said?
A. That democratic candidates would have the opportunity to win in elections. Not guaranteed, but they have an opportunity.
Q. Was it significant that black-preferred candidates won two out of four elections in the second congressional district under Dr. Hood’s performance analysis?
A. To me, it was, yes.
Q. What if black preferred candidates had won one out of four?
A. Mine had two out of four, so it gave it a 50/50 shot.
When the plaintiffs suing Alabama were before the U.S. Supreme Court, this is what they said they wanted — a district where Black voters would have a chance, not necessarily a guarantee, to elect their candidates.
But the Legislature junked Pringle’s plan.
Pringle is a senior member of the Alabama Legislature, but he wasn’t driving the train. Again, that was the state solicitor general and the more complicit members of the Alabama Senate.
The other committee co-chair, state Sen. Steve Livingston, told Pringle that LaCour and the senators upstairs wanted a different plan — one that would make it a lot harder for Democrats to win. But they also wanted to keep Pringle’s name on it.
“And I said, no we’re not,” Pringle testified. “If you want to pass a senate plan, you’re going to pass the senate on the senate bill number, and you’re not going to put my name on it.”
The House and Senate passed competing maps. A conference committee then drew a compromise map, which the Legislature passed along a party-line vote.
Democrats howled, and the plaintiffs from the original court challenge took the state right back to court.
But Pringle’s original House map showed something important — Republicans could have chosen to do better. In fact, one of them did just that.
The original Senate map had a Black voting population (BVP) of 38. 3 percent in the Second Congressional District — pretty much guaranteeing Republicans election wins there.
Pringle’s House plan had a BVP of 42.5 percent — giving Democrats and Republicans closer to even odds.
The final compromise map split the difference with a 40 percent BVP, but it shafts Black voters.
One analysis by the Brennan Center showed that the only recent election where Democrats would have prevailed under the current map was the 2017 special election, where Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore.
That same analysis showed Pringle’s plan wouldn’t do much better for Democrats, but it would be somewhat better — and that’s the thing that’s important here.
What Pringle’s map shows is that Republicans could have drawn a better map for Black voters. And then the Republicans junked that plan and passed a map that was tilted wildly in their favor.
No Republican official wants to draw a map that would give up a guaranteed Republican seat in Congress and hand that seat to Democrats, but that’s not what the courts have mandated.
Pringle’s map is proof the GOP lawmakers could have done a better job — perhaps not sufficient, but better — and then they chose not to.
They crept up to the line of fairness.
Then they spit at the folks on the other side.