Tending to the interests of his home state a few years ago, Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich asked the Census Bureau to fix an undercount of more than 200,000 people in Georgia.
“I strongly urge you to adjust Georgia’s population figures to reflect the correct population,” he wrote then-Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher in 1991. He added that without the change, “minority voting strength in Georgia will be seriously diluted.”
Now, half a decade and one political revolution later, Gingrich is Republican speaker of the House, determined to protect one of the narrowest majorities in decades - and an adamant foe of the sort of census adjustment he once sought.
Armed with an analysis showing that the Census Bureau’s plans to apply sampling techniques in 2000 could jeopardize Republican control of the House, he and the GOP leadership are engaged in a politically charged struggle with the Clinton administration.
“We think 24 to 26 House seats could be affected” by the outcome when census data are used to redraw congressional district lines within individual states, says Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee. That’s more than double the current GOP majority of 11 seats.
Fearful that the administration might manipulate the data to political advantage, Republicans resolved to use a disaster aid bill making its way through Congress as leverage.
Much of the controversy surrounding the measure relates to a GOP-backed provision designed to prevent government shutdowns. Yet the House Republican leadership decided weeks ago to use the must-pass bill to try to block the Census Bureau from using sampling techniques to correct for undercounts that disproportionately affect minorities and inner-city residents.