AV: If a jurisdiction can prove that it's no longer engaged in any discriminatory actions and has a pattern of being fair, we think the bailout provisions are there to allow that jurisdiction to not be covered. I think it's very dangerous for anybody to be saying that we are beyond discriminatory practices in this country. I think we only need to look at the anti-immigrant sentiment that really gets translated into anti-Latino sentiment...Going into redistricting in this environment, given where these new seats are, where the increased population is, the potential for unfair treatment of Latino voters is very high.
Hotline: This is the first time since the Voting Rights Act was put in place that there will be a Democratic Justice Department in place during redistricting. How differently do you think the Obama Justice Department will handling this than George W. Bush's Justice Department did?
AV: I've had meetings already with Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez and the attorney general. They've been very clear to us that they intend to be very vigilant and very active in this redistricting process. However, this is the same Justice Department that approved the Georgia Voter ID law, which we thought was really problematic. So the track record isn't necessarily there, but the rhetoric is.
Hotline: There have been a lot of shifts in California. Even though it has kept the same number of seats, there's been a bit of whites leaving and a large growth in the Latino community. Are you expecting more majority-minority districts this time around?
AV: We're hoping to. Keep in mind that despite the fact California didn't increase in congressional seats, they had one of the largest actual population increases of any state. Their population increased by 3.5 million people in the decade. Again, the majority of that population growth was Latino, followed by Asians. I think what may happen this time is we may actually wind up seeing some potential for tension in preserving the same number of African American districts, especially in South Los Angeles. You have three African American congressional seats right next to each other, and you have the ocean to the west, you have Jane Harman (D) and Henry Waxman (D) to the north, and to the east you have all the Latino districts. These districts have to grow to absorb more population, and they're going to bump into each other. And at some point, in order to preserve these African American districts the west side districts can only go so far east before they start infringing upon the effectiveness of Hispanic districts.
Hotline: Do you have any concerns about that? Historically, your group and MALDEF have worked pretty well with the NAACP because you were working towards common goals. Will there be tensions going forward?
AV: I think there is a sense of pragmatism, and people facing what the facts are in terms of the population shifts within California. We know we've had a huge increase in Latinos and Asians. The African American population has remained stagnant. I think people understand the numbers.
Hotline: Besides this issue, working out tensions between Latinos and African Americans in areas that are Democratically controlled, you're also going to have the potential for conflict in places like Texas, Florida, Arizona, even places like Georgia and South Carolina where there's Republican control but high Latino population growth.
AV: Well, in South Carolina and Georgia it's highly immigrant. It's very different than the population increase we saw in a place like Nevada. We saw how effective Latino voters could be in Nevada. We saw how effective they could be in a statewide election, where [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid (D) to everybody's surprise won by 5 points. There is that difference. Nevada certainly has the opportunity to create a Latino-effective voting district, much more so than Georgia or South Carolina. But what we need to look there, just because you don't have an effective Latino voting population shouldn't give legislators license to gerrymander those communities. This is where people need be able to present evidence about communities of interest, and if a community is Latino and shares a language, shares a culture, that should define it as a community of interest.
Hotline: Do you think those are the areas you'll have the most conflict this time around? How many of those states, Louisiana as well, are going to fight the Voting Rights Act?
AV: Redistricting is one of those places where odd bedfellows
are created. When I directed MALDEF's redistricting program in 1991, I
was really amazed at how helpful the Republican redistricting operation
wanted to be to us because they saw it in their interest to create as
many Latino majority districts as possible at the expense of white
Democrats, which would benefit Republicans.
Hotline: Do you see your mission simply as creating the most Latino districts, or creating the opportunity for the most candidates who agree with the Latino community on some key issues?
AV: This has to be a process where we create the most districts where Latinos can elect candidates of their choice regardless of their political party. I don't think the partisan consequences of the plan should really be dictating what we do to ensure the voting rights of Latinos are protected.