The Mississippi senate runoff may very well go in favor of Cindy Hyde-Smith, who never should have gotten this far in the first place. She has the Magnolia State’s racist gerrymander to thank.
Earlier this week, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) said something particularly bone-headed. Smith elevated her senate runoff race up to the national level when she declared enough admiration for a friend to risk the controversy of showing up with him at a public hanging.
“If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” Sen. Hyde-Smith announced to a crowd in Tupelo, Mississippi, after receiving praise from cattle rancher Colin Hutchinson.
Her statement is particularly insensitive considering Mississippi’s vicious history with public lynching. The state has 654 recorded lynchings, although that number is easily suspected to be higher, considering the difficulty in documenting such violence over countless decades.
Aside from earning thousands of catcalls from social media and quality ink from national media such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and international media outlets like the The Guardian, Hyde-Smith received quick rebuke from Democratic opponent Mike Espy. Espy, who is African American, called her statement “hurtful” and “harmful,” and warned that it reinforced negative stereotypes of Mississippians.
Cindy Hyde-Smith is reeling today from her assertion, which piles onto the back of similarly tone-deaf announcements, such as her vociferous opposition to federally-financed gun registries two days after the recent mass shooting of 12 concert-goers in California. But Hyde-Smith’s ham-handed declarations are nothing new in a state like Mississippi.
Just last year, another white Mississippi politician, state Rep. Karl Oliver (R), denounced the City of New Orleans on Facebook for removing a pro-Confederate statue. Oliver stated that New Orleans leaders “should be lynched” if they intend to “destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY.”
White politicians in Mississippi have a habit of uttering racist, swamp-weed comments, and if it looks like they’re doing it with impunity, that’s because they are. They risk no repercussion from their voters because their voters are mostly in line with those same racist viewpoints, and the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governors like Phil Bryant and Haley Barbour (also the former chairman of the Republican National Committee) have made sure it stays that way.
Before Cindy Hyde-Smith embarrassed her state with talk of lynchings at the national level, she was a state senator from Mississippi’s Senate District 39. Senate District 39 is a little less than 30 percent black, so Smith has never had a reason to be particularly sensitive to black people, or their public hangings.
Now, nabbing a majority-white district in a state that’s almost 40 percent black takes some serious wrangling. It could only happen if senators carve up individual municipalities based upon their majority population. Hyde-Smith’s old district, for example, splays out like a dyspeptic liver until it reaches the largely-black town of Hazlehurst.
A peek at a Census demographic map depicting black residents as green dots makes clear why pro-GOP mappers decided to stop abruptly at Hazelhurst’s doorstep. Sucking a 74 percent-black town into District 39 would have given somebody like Hyde-Smith a headache at election time.
The same goes for Oliver’s House District 46, which slaps wetly across Mississippi’s mid-section before screeching to a stop at the southern half of the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood (in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, represented for decades by Democrat Bennie Thompson).
Oliver’s district is only 32 percent black, which is hard to accomplish with so much of it occupying the state’s majority-black Delta territory. Thankfully for Oliver, legislators running the redistricting process in 2010 opted to let his district dip just far enough down into Greenwood to sop up its white Republican voters. The rest of the town’s minority section got handed over to Rep. Willie Bailey (D), who is black.
The fact of the matter is that “packing” minority voters into a powerless handful of minority/majority districts and “cracking” a solid block of opposing party voters into small, impotent enclaves gives incredible power to racist politicians, who can then say and do racist things with complete abandon and no accountability.
It’s one of the reasons America needs to take the power of redistricting out of the hands of the people in power. David Waymire, spokesman for anti-gerrymandering group Voters Not Politicians successfully shepherded anti-gerrymandering Proposal 2 through Michigan’s November midterms last week.
“I want to paraphrase author David Daley, who said that you can draw a direct line from the kind of districts that are gerrymandered to the kind of politicians that run them, from the kinds of elected officials that are elected in them, to the kind of policies they have,” Waymire told Grit Post. “[Gerrymandering] really undermines democracy by making people wonder if their vote really counts.”
The practice also apparently hurts politicians’ IQ points by insulating veritable imbeciles from public opinion.
For those who don’t know, Daley is the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy. And he’s right — the more we allow gerrymandering to continue unabated, the more we can expect politicians like Cindy Hyde-Smith to ascend to offices as high as the U.S. Senate, despite whatever toxic views they espouse.