19th century journalist Horace Greeley was prophetic when declaring “go west, young man,” as population shifts this decade reveal states in the northeast section of the country will lose a minimum of eight House of Representative seats for the 2012 election and those commonwealths in the south and west will increase their powerbase in Congress by gaining new districts and eager politicians to represent those interests in Washington, continuing a trend that began a century ago.
Census Bureau estimates just released show Utah being the fastest growing state between July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2008 with its population increasing 2.5 percent. The next four states to grow at the largest percentage in that one year timeframe were Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado.
California remains the most populated state, followed by Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.
All states reported an increase of people in the last year except Michigan which lost 46,000 residents and Rhode Island which saw two thousand of its citizens cross their border and not return.
Such changes in House representation between the states will also affect the next three presidential elections as the 538 electoral college electors choosing our chief executive are based on the 435 House seats, one hundred U. S. Senate Seats and three given to the District of Columbia even though they have no legal representation in either body of Congress.
Congress passed a law in 1929 fixing the number of House members at 435 so arbitrarily cannot increase its membership to accommodate those states losing out due to dwindling population growth. The seats are apportioned by where the country’s citizens live with each state guaranteed at least one House representative. There are currently seven states with only one congressman representing the whole commonwealth which means the other 43 states must divide the remaining 428 seats among themselves.
The only time the House ever exceeded its own maximum amount occurred in 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii were given legislators once brought into the union and before reapportionment from the 1960 census could make the necessary adjustments.
The Washington based political consulting firm Election Data Services analyzes population trends affecting national elections and has concluded in their studies that a minimum of eight House seats will switch in 2012 they base on changes in population shifts during this decade.
They believe those states gaining one seat each will be Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah. Texas would receive three additional House seats based on the population numbers compiled by the census this think tank has interpreted. All of the states benefiting from these populations shifts are in the south and west and all except Utah gained at least one new House member in 2002 following the last nationwide census and apportionment.
States giving up power and long-serving politicians from the north and east would be Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The last three states have been losing House seats and political power for many decades, having peaked with their largest number of representatives in the 1930’s when Franklin Roosevelt served as president.
Louisiana would also be losing a seat because of the continued decline in its population three years after Hurricane Katrina forced hundreds of thousands to move elsewhere with many of those displaced residents never to return.
One extreme scenario the EDS experts believe may happen would require Ohio losing two House seats to magnify the population decline in a state that has voted with the winner in every presidential election since 1896 except choosing Richard Nixon over John Kennedy in 1960.
To emphasize the shift in population to the west and south one only has to look at the 1908 election when there were only 46 states and a total of 483 presidential electors. New York was the most populated state a century ago and had 39 electors with Pennsylvania second with 34 electoral delegates. Texas was only apportioned 18 and California a lowly ten when the nation selected William Howard Taft to be president.
This inevitable change of political influence from east to west has been steady these last one hundred years since the final four states joined the union and the ability of the public to easily relocate to other regions of the country in search of work once long-range transportation became affordable to the masses.
Of those eight states set to relinquish one seat President-Elect Barack Obama won all but Louisiana in the November general election. Of the six states to receive seats in 2012, John McCain won four, including Texas, which would have given him six additional Electoral College electors had such changes been in effect for the just concluded contest. Only such gains wouldn’t have helped the Republican Arizona senator in his nationwide blow out loss of 365 electors to 173.
The president-elect resides in a state centrally located in the nation but Illinois only has 21 electors as compared to 27 in 1960 and 29 back in 1932 at its peak of influence and if current trends are maintained will continue to lose its political influence in Washington.
Texas will potentially increase its House membership by at three to 37 electoral votes just as it loses its unique advantage in the Executive Branch with George W. Bush going into retirement. Since 1964, seventeen of the past forty-four years have seen a Texan occupying the White House. The year Lyndon Johnson was elected the state only had 25 electoral votes so its influence has significantly grown in the last four decades when three of its native sons occupied the Oval Office.
The Lone Star State’s gain apparently comes at neighboring Louisiana’s expense if they do lose one seat since the population of New Orleans is still only half of its pre-Katrina levels, according to preliminary census reviews of the last three years in anticipation of the 2010 full count that EDS reviewed for their prediction.
The 2000 census apportionment saw eight states in the south and west gain twelve new representatives and electors for the 2004 and 2008 elections while ten states, again in the north and east, lost the equal amount with New York and Pennsylvania each vacating two seats.
Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas gained two seats in that redistricting while California, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina each picked up one. Those losing one seat in 2000 were Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
George W. Bush won 30 states with 271 electoral votes in the 2000 contest to Al Gore’s 20 states and District of Columbia for a 267 count. When Bush was reelected in 2004 he picked up 31 states while John Kerry got 19 plus DC. Only three states switched party preferences in the rematch with Bush winning Iowa and New Mexico that second time and only losing New Hampshire. Reapportionment enabled him to collect an additional seven electors in those states in the west and south he triumphed that second time around.
Once the states are notified how many House seats they will be getting for 2012 their respective legislatures must redraw the designated number of districts to accommodate the population shifts.
And do it in a way that doesn’t appear those in control are gerrymandering the process so one political party gains an unfair advantage come election time.
That cynical term was coined in honor of Elbridge Gerry, a signer to the Declaration of Independence, and the second vice-president under James Madison to die in office two centuries ago. He was governor of Massachusetts when devising a redistricting plan ensuring a majority of his political supporters in every congressional district in the state. His attempts were exposed when opponents complained the outlines of the map resembled a salamander and the name stuck.