ARKANSAS Re-districting: Hispanic Voices, New District

SPRINGDALE, AR - Re-districting is the “hot topic” these days as discussions are taking place on where to draw the new boundary lines and how best to follow the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guides the process of preserving communities of interest and encourages meaningful voter participation. Next week, the Board of Apportionment will present its proposals to re-draw 100 House of Representative and 35 Senate districts in order to take into account population increases and shifts based on the 2010 Census. For the first time in Arkansas’ history, the Board is considering creating a Hispanic House “majority-minority” district in Northwest Arkansas, in which at least 55 percent of the district’s population would be of Hispanic descent. Amidst diverse perspectives that have emerged in response to a Hispanic district, one thing remains clear: the Hispanic community is a “community of interest” in these redistricting processes.

There are three main arguments in favor of creating a Hispanic district in Northwest Arkansas: 1) the growth of the Hispanic population, 2) real challenges that persist in the political system related to diverse representation and voter dilution, and 3) the legal precedent set by implementation of the Voting Rights Act here in Arkansas.

Over the last two decades, the census reports have reflected marked growth in Arkansas. In 2010, the population increased by 9% with nearly 3 million people and is becoming more diverse. The demographic make-up of the three largest groups and their growth since 2000 includes 77% White (up 5%); 15.4% Black (up 7.4%) and 6.4% Hispanic (up 114%). While constituting 12 percent of Northwest Arkansas’ population, Hispanics represent 35 percent of the population in Springdale and Rogers and over 41 percent of the K-12 student populations in these two school districts. As a result, good and impactful policies depend on having the voices of all Arkansans, including Hispanic Arkansans, represented at the table in the legislature, introducing new perspectives, new ways of thinking and problem solving that would benefit everyone.

To date, Arkansas has not elected any Hispanic to state office. Opponents of a Hispanic district cite the typical oppositions to affirmative action programs; however, real challenges exist to including people from diverse backgrounds in our political institutions. For example, Arkansas is the only Southern state that has never sent an African American to the U.S. Congress. Arkansas boasts approximately 75,000 eligible Hispanic voters who are primed to be participating in elections, and less than one-fifth of them are actively voting.

Nationally, ethnic majority districts have proven to have a spill-over effect in building the morale of under-represented populations to engage in the political system and laying a pathway for their candidates to gain entry to political office.

The Voting Rights Act has been the legal catalyst for allowing ethnic minority communities to be represented in the political process as new districts are created. As evidence, Arkansas has 13 House and four Senate districts where the majority of the residents are African American.

Although there is no guarantee that ethnic minority candidates will be elected to office, the decision is still ultimately determined by the voters, who will cast their ballots for candidates who represent their views and concerns. Hence, the votes of Hispanic voters in that district will make a difference.

People have moved to Northwest Arkansas for a variety of reasons. The Natural State is a great place to live, work and raise a family and cares deeply for its people. A quick glance at the Sunday newspaper regularly features numerous events that are raising funds for causes to enhance the quality of life of all people. In 2009, Springdale opened the Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate, which has been a wonderful resource for our community and further demonstrates the commitment of both the Hispanics and the Marshallese to calling Northwest Arkansas home. Moreover, studies are continuously proving that Arkansas immigrants put more into Arkansas’ economy and tax system than they are take out—significant contributions during these challenging economic times.

New growth brings new voices and new legislative districts. Northwest Arkansas will add one Senate district and three House seats. Given that these legislative boundaries are artificial because the number of people to be included in each district is so closely tied to the census, the real matter is “who” will be represented. A great opportunity exists for the Board of Apportionment to be inclusive of all its citizens. It’s time to draw boundaries for one new Hispanic majority district.

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Diana Gonzales Worthen is Vice-President of the Hispanic Democratic Caucus of Arkansas-Third Congressional District and has been working with over 50 concerned citizens and organizations that support a Hispanic majority district. In 2006, Diana became Arkansas’ first Hispanic woman to run for the state legislature.

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To support ths effort Email or call directly Joe Woodson, Redistricting Coordinator, at [email protected] or 501-683-2080 and remind him that no Hispanic has ever been elected to state office in Arkansas and there is strong legal precedent set by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in requiring the inclusion of all ethnic and racial demographic groups in our political representation system. Post a blog on the Arkansas Redistricting 2011 website at https://redistricting.ark.org
Diana Gonzales Worthen

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November 18, 2017, 7:21 pm
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