Friday, April 17, 2009

Census 2010: Honest Count Or Partisan Issue?

Ten years ago I participated in Census 2000 as a member of Whatcom County's 'Complete Count' Committee.
That was a very enlightening experience, which got rewarded by substantially exceeding the estimated count of 66%, instead reaching about 71% of the people living here.
That may not sound like much, but translated into the allocation of Federal funds -and reapportionment of US House of Representatives seats - it does mean a lot, likely millions of dollars for just Whatcom County.
Of course, the likelihood of gaining another House seat is pretty remote, unless we happen to become one of the fastest growth areas in the US -something most folks would not prefer.

On the subject of House seat reapportionment, some might like a little history on how that came about.
For over a hundred years, the US Constitution required adding another House seat every time the Census showed a gain of a certain number of people -initially 10,000.
At some point that system would clearly become unworkable -imagine a population of 350 million requiring about 35,000 House members.
So, something had to change, and it did around 1920, when that year's Census first indicated that more people lived in urban areas than in rural areas.
This was cause for serious consternation among some, who thought it just wouldn't do to have city folk having the advantage in decisions affecting the country as a whole. [Isn't there still some of that thinking around?]
Anyway, the decision was made to freeze the number of House members at the then current level of 435, and readjust their apportionment periodically, based upon Census results.
And, that's how it stands today.
This process continues to allow adjustments based upon relative population counts, but at a much slower rate.

Of course, the Senate membership is not based upon population, but fixed at a constant 2 Senators per State; one of those pesky compromises that were required for the USA to even come into being!

Long story short, this will provide some background for our upcoming Census 2010 and its importance.
I don't know what plans are in the works to ensure the next Census is a really good one, but surely there will be such an effort.

With the above in mind, I'm reprinting below, an Op-Ed by Timothy Egan that recently appeared in the NY Times:

April 15, 2009, 10:00 PM
Family Secrets

The new Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke of Seattle, is a former Eagle Scout, prosecutor, and popular two-term governor whose idea of a good time is to crawl under the kitchen sink with plumber’s tape and a gob of grease. Just one week into the new job, he flew home to mow his lawn.

After reading the background file that the F.B.I. put together on Locke, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison characterized the latest member of President Obama’s cabinet with one word — “boring.”

But Gary Locke does have a family secret that is anything but eye-glazing.
Yes, he is widely known as the nation’s first Chinese-American governor, with a stirring family saga, as President Obama said in introducing Locke.

“Sometimes the American story can be told in the span of a single mile,” Obama said, referring to the distance between the place where Gary’s immigrant grandfather worked as a house servant nearly a hundred years ago and the Capitol where Locke was sworn in as Washington state governor in 1997.

Yet there would be no Lockes in America, no great story of the kid raised in public housing who went on to Yale and high office, no presidential kudos, if that same grandfather had not lied to get into the country.
“Some members of my family are still very nervous about acknowledging what happened back then,” Locke told me nine years ago, when I spent time with him for a profile.
And when I asked him last week about that same family secret, he repeated the story, with some hesitation.
“I’m not really sure, but I think my grandfather claimed he was born here but the birth records were destroyed,” Locke said.

For more than half a century, in an act of overt institutional racism, the Chinese were barred from legally entering the United States, with only a few exceptions. The Chinese Exclusion Act lasted until 1943. Those who managed to get in were often called “paper sons,” using elaborate ruses about lost documentation to enter the country.

Locke’s grandfather — today — would likely be hiding in the shadows, fearing federal officials and the lash of those who don’t like the changing character of America.
All of which gives Locke an unusual perspective for his new job. As Commerce Secretary, he will oversee one of the oldest undertakings of the federal government: the decennial census, which takes place a year from now. As defined by the Constitution, the census is supposed to be a count of all residents of the United States — “actual enumeration,” not just citizens.

In attempting to translate that task for purposes of electoral representation, the first census counted black slaves as three-fifths of a human being. That 1790 head count put the population of the young republic at 3.9 million.

Locke was born in the United States, so you wing nuts can rest easy. His father served in the American Army, a staff sergeant who landed at Normandy Beach and fought the Nazis in Europe.
The Locke family narrative is the American story, even with that twist about how they first came to these shores. The fact that they felt some shame over this episode is not usual; they skirted the law, egregious as it was, to get in.

Some Americans don’t see the common heritage: the hushed story of entry paired with the later success borne of hard work. When Locke gave the Democratic response to the 2003 State of the Union address, he was besieged by hate e-mails and death threats, many telling him to go back to China. The reaction stunned him: Here was a deep hatred he had never been exposed to.

Few of us can trace our ancestry to the Mayflower. But it’s worth noting that, from a Native American perspective, those Massachusetts Bay pilgrims were illegals.

As Locke oversees the census, he says he will put extra effort in making sure everyone gets counted. Some Republicans fear he will use statistical sampling — an educated guess, based on partial numbers. But the Supreme Court has ruled against this, and Locke vows the census will steer clear of such projections.
“What we want is an accurate count of America,” he said. “A true portrait.”

At stake is more than $300 billion in state and federal funds, congressional seat allocations, and the balance of the Electoral College. Those slaves of 1790, though counted as less than human, gave southern states additional power in congress and the general election.

Today, the illegal immigrants — mostly Latino, but many Asians as well — will tip the balance another way. They include those who may one day have grandchildren in the president’s cabinet, a cycle as old as the republic.


Earlier, the following piece appeared on the Internet which adds more interesting information:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has chosen Robert Groves to lead the U.S. Census Bureau, naming a leading expert on survey methodology to direct the politically contentious 2010 U.S. headcount.

The White House announced the nomination of Groves, director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, in a statement on Thursday. He would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Groves is a former Census Bureau associate director who has studied statistically adjusting survey results to compensate for nonresponse, a politically charged issue in census debates.

Obama angered Republicans in February with a decision to bring the U.S. Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department, under closer White House jurisdiction.
Lawmakers accused Obama of making a partisan political decision ahead of the 2010 census, which will form the basis for redrawing electoral district boundaries.

The White House insisted the Census Bureau would remain a part of the Commerce Department but said there were historic precedents for the head of the census to work closely with the president and the White House, a model it intended to follow.
The decision to bring the census under closer White House supervision followed Democratic criticism of Obama's nomination of a Republican senator, Judd Gregg, as secretary of commerce.

Gregg withdrew from consideration during the controversy over the Census, citing that and other differences with the president as the reason. The withdrawal was viewed as a blow to Obama's promise of bipartisanship in his Cabinet.

The selection of Groves to lead the Census Bureau was praised by a consortium of professional groups that include the American Statistical Association, the American Sociological Association and the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics.
"Dr. Groves is a highly respected leader in the social science and statistical community who has distinguished himself in academia and in public service," the Consortium of Social Science Associations said in a statement.
"Dr. Groves has demonstrated the scientific capacity and leadership to run the 2010 Census and the other programs at the Census Bureau."

The group said the issue of statistical adjustment was "spurious" because Commerce Secretary Gary Locke had assured Congress the 2010 count would not be adjusted and the Supreme Court had weighed in against it for reapportionment cases.


Does it seem to you that the Census ought to be a bitter partisan issue?
It seems to me the Constitution was pretty clear in its intent, but maybe that's just me.
Don't be surprised at all manner of hyperbole, ridiculous claims and legal maneuvers to benefit some desperate right-wing folks who see their chances at rigging future elections being diminished -by all things, an honest Census count!