Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: Let the courts decide redistricting.

“The Board had an opportunity to make history today. For the first time since 1850, when Los Angeles County was incorporated, the Board of Supervisors could have chosen to voluntarily redraw district lines in such a way that safeguards the civil rights of all voters. With the benefit of hindsight, that should have been easy to accomplish. We all know that the courts found that in 1990, the Supervisors intentionally engaged in dilution of the Latino community’s voting strength; every effort should have been made to avoid a similar outcome this time. Protection of incumbents, reassignment of voters and deferral of election, or constituents’ comfort with their own current representative should not be the dominant criteria for adopting maps.

My support for two Latino-opportunity districts has not been about race, but rather about principle. It is about following the law. Since the beginning of the Board’s redistricting efforts, I have steadily maintained that adhering to the Voting Rights Act should be the primary goal of this body. This also has been the driving force behind the courageous and tenacious leadership of Supervisor Gloria Molina. Supervisor Molina worked tirelessly these past few months not to seek any special advantage for Latinos, but to ensure that upholding civil rights for all of the County’s citizens was the central focus of the Board’s debate.

Adherence to the Voting Rights Act has been contorted by some into an argument about racial divisiveness. That’s ironic, because it is the Voting Rights Act that ensures equality for all citizens. Enforcement of the VRA by the courts in 1990 resulted in the district boundaries now being defended by proponents of the status quo.

The Board heard evidence that racially polarized voting exists in Los Angeles County. We have heard this from the Voting Rights Act counsel to the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission. We have heard it from civil rights advocates and academics. And we have heard from representatives of the Latino community – a community that makes up nearly half the population of this County.
It is my belief that the Board should have adopted a redistricting map that provides Latinos with the opportunity to elect candidates of choice in at least two of the five districts. The S2 Plan also increases the AP-I voting strength. Couldn’t we, for once, have willingly embraced the inevitable?

We had two opportunities to adopt a map that fully complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

My support of Plan S2 stems from the experience of African Americans, who know all too well the adverse impact of disenfranchisement. I am proud to have stood in solidarity with those civil rights advocates who are merely seeking protection of the Latino community’s voting rights.

Such advocacy does not come at the expense of any other community. It is an expression of the tradition of civil rights and a fulfillment of the legacy left to us by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who see voting as the primary tool of democratic expression.

When Martin Luther King, John Lewis and hundreds of African-American marchers locked arms and stepped forward to meet the violence that awaited them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, they challenged the status quo and prevailing notions of democracy. They re-defined patriotism. I’m sure they never imagined their bravery and sacrifice would frame a debate and discussion such as the one we’ve had today, but they weren’t willing to die just for African-Americans. They were willing to die for the American ideal of democracy.

I believe strongly that either S2 or T1 is the right redistricting map, reflecting appropriate communities of interest and complying with the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, the board was unwilling to compromise. Ultimately, a federal court will likely determine whether a second, effective Latino-majority district is legally required.

In order to expedite that court review, to avoid further divisive delay and to avoid an unnecessary gamble on the uncertainty of an untested political process, I voted for A3 as amended. However, let me be clear: in voting for the A3 map, my sentiments remain unchanged. I am not endorsing the status quo. Rather, it is my expectation that endorsing the status quo will have the opposite effect; far from resolving the issue, the Board has hastened the court decision that appears necessary to determine district lines that comply with the VRA.

When there is no compromise, the courts must decide.”