News that Commerce Secretary nominee Judd Gregg will relinquish his responsibilities to oversee the Census Bureau is being greeted with a sigh of relief by progressive and minority groups.
Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, has a contentious history with the Census Bureau, having opposed a request for emergency funds for the agency in 2000. Democrats, then and now, viewed the opposition as a political and shifty attempt to keep minorities off the voting rolls. With redistricting set to follow the census in 2010, having Gregg oversee the effort had some lawmakers and political organizations nearly apoplectic.
The census, as it stands now, represents the surest opportunity for Democrats to lock up the demographic changes that have begun manifesting themselves on the electoral landscape. In particular, the proper counting of minority votes in the southwest could make that region a major power base for the party in the future.
"There are many things that will happen as a result of the census," said Simon Rosenberg of NDN. "One thing that will definitely happen is that the Hispanic parts of the country will grow dramatically in terms of political power... the story about the sleeping Hispanic giant being woken will be radically accelerated because of this census."
Certainly, Republicans are keenly aware of this dynamic. There has been a long history of dubious GOP interference with the census and redistricting process, the most memorable episode of which took place under former Majority Leader Tom Delay in Texas. Rosenberg traces the mentality back to the GOP's Southern Strategy and through to current and likely future battles over whether illegal immigrants should be counted on census rolls.
The stakes are quite high. Republican officials recognize that one of the quickest ways to get back into federal power may be through the 2010 gubernatorial elections. Governors after all have the authority to veto redistricting plans - to take place after the census - in 28 states. In another five, the governor is responsible for appointing members to the redistricting board. Should Republicans take over the majority of statehouses - there will be 36 gubernatorial elections in 2010 - it could go along way towards determining congressional representation.
"The 2010 elections are almost as important or equally important as the elections this year. After redistricting in 2011, the governors are going to have a huge influence in determining the political makeup of this country," Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association said back in July. "We could feasibly see 25 to 30 congressional seats swing as the result of redistricting. And the state legislatures and governor could determine that swing. Can the National Republican Congressional Committee make a statement like that with a straight face? It would be harder for them."