Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., seems to believe that her ethnicity entitles her to keep her congressional seat this election. In a Spanish language interview on Univision, the seven-term representative from California's 47th Congressional District accused "los Vietnamese y los Republicanos" of trying to take away a seat she says belongs to the Hispanic community, and therefore her.
Sanchez's Republican opponent this year is a state assemblyman, Van Tran, who came to the United States at the age of 10 from his native Vietnam just days before the fall of Saigon.
Sanchez's comments were highly offensive. But they reflect a reality that is little discussed these days, namely racial gerrymandering, which has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans for decades.
The 47th District spans across a populous area in California's Orange County, including the cities of Garden Grove and Santa Ana as well as parts of Fullerton and Anaheim. Orange County was once synonymous with wealth and conservatism. But the county has changed in recent years largely because of the influx of working- and middle-class Hispanics and Asians, many of them immigrants and small-businessmen and women. The changing demographics have also made this district less easy to pigeonhole.
Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years in order to reflect population changes in the latest decennial census. In most states, the legislature redraws the lines, and the party that controls the legislature often draws those lines to try to ensure its members stay in power. But amendments to the Voting Rights Act have played a large role in how the lines have been drawn since 1982. Unfortunately, the act has been interpreted by the courts to favor drawing legislative districts so that minority candidates have a good chance of being elected, creating so-called "safe" minority seats.
Sanchez was first elected in 1996, defeating long-term incumbent Republican Bob Dornan in what was then the 46th Congressional District. The election was controversial because Dornan asserted that Sanchez won her narrow victory, by 979 votes, because some non-citizens voted. After a lengthy congressional investigation, Sanchez was allowed to take her seat when investigators found only 748 tainted votes, not enough to change the results. When it came time to redraw district boundaries, the Democratic-controlled state Legislature packed in more minority voters to create a "safe" seat for Sanchez.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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