A bad fate for Forbes?

Published 9:33 am Saturday, June 11, 2011

The sleaziness of Anthony Weiner, John Ensign and others on Capitol Hill makes one appreciate a straight arrow like Randy Forbes.

This columnist has been surprised before by politicians’ moral misdeeds, but I’d be stunned if a scandal ever derailed the affable representative of Virginia’s 4th Congressional District.

Forbes, who spoke to Franklin business and professional leaders at a Friday luncheon, is much more likely to serve honorably for another decade or so, continue to fight for his conservative principles, and retire with dignity from public service.

That is, unless Democrats in the Virginia Senate have their way.

That body this week approved a congressional redistricting plan that seeks to force Forbes out of Congress next year for no better reason than the color of his skin.

The Senate plan would shift African-American voters from U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott’s 3rd District and put enough into the 4th District to pave the way for a second black congressman in the state.

Race-based gerrymandering, which still has the blessing of the U.S. Justice Department a half-decade after the end of government-sanctioned racism in this country, is distasteful and, from this vantage point, a disservice to the people it purports to help.

By packing black voters into a handful of congressional districts in order to ensure the election of black candidates, lawmakers necessarily must make other districts whiter and more conservative.

Principled Democrats who want their party to remain influential in the decades ahead should resist mightily the zeal among some in the party for so-called “majority-minority” districts.

For the record, I don’t take the utopian view that race is now irrelevant for voters. Unquestionably, though, race is less relevant in politics than ever before in this country.

The best evidence is the election of President Barack Obama in a country where African-Americans make up less than 15 percent of the population and an even smaller percentage of the electorate. The Justice Department deems Southerners less trustworthy on matters of race, but it is significant that Virginia, with a population that is less than 20 percent black, delivered its electoral votes to Obama. So did North Carolina, with a population that is less than 25 percent black.

A whole bunch of white people in this state and country helped elect a black man as president and will likely do so again in 2012, barring further deterioration of the economy.

Race-based voting, where it lingers in the South and elsewhere, works both ways. The notion that black voters automatically support black candidates drives the very logic of “majority-minority” election districts. Virginia’s Senate Democrats assume that Forbes would lose to a black candidate in a reconfigured 4th Congressional District.

Perhaps they are right. Given their unapologetic, discriminatory motives, it would be a tragic ending for one of the good guys in public service.