Losing a seat in the U.S. House would hurt Alabama

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By Greg Markley

Frank Boykin of Mobile represented the state’s 1st District in Congress for 28 years. In 1962 he came in eighth in the Democratic runoff and was defeated in November by a Republican. Convicted of conflict of interest and conspiracies, he served no jail time and was pardoned in 1965. Despite losing in 1962, he remained positive and well-liked. His mantra was “Everything’s Made for Love.”
Losing a congressional seat as in 1962, or worse, forfeiting two seats of our seven, might happen unless at least 80% of Alabamians turn in their completed U.S. Census forms. If we lose even one House seat, our political power will suffer; the state will lose billions in community funding, economic development opportunities, and have a weaker presence in the Electoral College.
“For the state to lose two seats, there would have to be catastrophic events leading to a dramatic downturn in population between now and April 2020 and the Census enumeration,” said Gerald Webster, a professor of political geography at the University of Wyoming and a former professor at the University of Alabama.
Our state will almost certainly lose one congressional seat for the first time since 1970, as Alabama’s population hasn’t grown as much since the 2010 Census as have those of Southeast and Southwest states. Alabama grew a paltry 0.2% from July 2017-July 2018.
But Florida has grown consistently for more than a decade. In the Southwest, Arizona ranks high for raw population and for percent growth in the 12-month period that ended last July 1.
If Alabama escapes the Census results with just one U.S. House seat lost, the implications will be wide. As redistricting based on population lost as shown in the 2020 Census may lead to more territory for each member of congress, your uncle who is a small businessman and needs a case managed in the congressman’s office may have to wait longer.
Will it take longer to get students interviewed by the congressman for a possible appointment to West Point?
Will flags that are flown in Afghanistan, for example, be available for your home flagpole after a lengthier wait? Will “Congressionals” sent by military personnel still meet the timetable for case handling and resolution? Will the Member have a wider geographical area to travel to for speeches and quality time with voters? Will the smaller congressional delegation get larger staffs as they have more work? I hope so, for their sake and that of constituents.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is very popular and now in his 17 th year representing the 3rd Congressional District. The speculation above reflects my knowledge of the type of work congressmen do, aside from legislating. It arises from years of writing about congressmen in Alabama and Georgia. Rogers supports an accurate Census as much as I do. We were undercounted by perhaps a million people in 2010. Why? It was weak Census participation.
Returning to Boykin, he lost his House seat in the 1962 primary. The state delegation was cut to eight congressmen from nine, and Boykin ended up the odd-man-out. He earned 381,000 votes, finishing behind the eighth place candidate (Robert Jones, Jr.) by approximately 188,000 votes.
This congressman-v.-congressman contest evolved after the Alabama Legislature could not agree on a district to eliminate, so all nine incumbents ran against each other in the May 29, 1962 election. The eight survivors would become at-large congressmen. George Andrews, for whom a federal building/courthouse in Opelika was named in 1967, came in sixth place out of the nine congressmen.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shows the importance of state representation on a national level,” explained Gov. Kay Ivey on April 1. “If we lose a representative due to a low Census count, that would mean one less voice advocating for Alabama’s needs during critical times in the future.”
The precise number at which the governor pointed is a 72% participation rate, from the 2010 Census. If the state’s Census intake is below that percentage, Alabama would probably face reduced representation in Congress. That is in addition to losing millions of dollars in Census-related community funding and reduced economic development opportunities.
And don’t forget the cut of one vote from Alabama’s Electoral Vote contribution. We would go from nine (seven congressmen and two U.S. senators) to eight. Would presidential candidates care as we will have only eight? In a tight race they might choose a state with, say, nine or 10 for added campaign attention. Five times in U.S. history, the person losing the Popular (or “people’s”) vote became president based on the Electoral Vote. This was in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.
A surprising number of congressmen nationwide had their political careers wrecked in primaries when pitted against other members of Congress. That may be fine to some people, but losing a congressional seat is nonetheEx-congressman Frank Boykin’s motto that “Everything’s made for love” needs a corollary: “The 2020 Census is made for love of our state; if we don’t participate, it will hurt Alabama.” Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.

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