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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/18/09

Personal About Politics: Suddenly the Census is Sexy

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Message Cheri Cabot

Every ten years we fill out the form sent to us by the Census Bureau with its questions about our race, where we live, our income, how many children we have, etc., etc., etc., and then we send it back. We like to hear how many people now live in the United States and where most of them live and then pretty much forget about it.

So, I'm sure it came as a surprise to most people when Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination as President Barack Obama's commerce secretary, citing "irresolvable conflicts" over the administration's stimulus bill and the upcoming 2010 Census.

Over the 2010 Census? Did you whip your head around and say "WHAT?"- Forget the stimulus bill, that's only $787 billion, while the census has huge political ramifications.

It was Sen. Gregg who approached President Obama expressing interest in the position of commerce secretary, the office that the Census Bureau reports to. According to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, Gregg had "reached out to the president and offered his name for secretary of commerce."

When he was subsequently offered the position, Gregg made the Democratic Governor of New Hampshire promise to pick a Republican as his replacement in the Senate and agreed not to vote on the stimulus package. He seemed to be on somewhat of a power trip over this potential appointment.

Why so much interest in the Census? Why is it suddenly so sexy? The official U.S. Census Bureau website for Census 2010 defines the Census as this:

    * The census is a count of everyone living in the United States every 10 years.
    * The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
    * The next census is in 2010.
    * Your participation in the census is required by law.
    * It takes less than 10 minutes to complete
    * Federal law protects the personal information you share during the census.
    * Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, sate and tribal governments each year.

It's that last paragraph that makes the Census so politically powerful and sexy: "distribute Congressional seats to states" and "distribute $300 billion in federal funds." The numbers determine if states lose or gain population and therefore lose or gain Congressional seats and money, and those numbers remain stagnant for the next ten years. So, even if the demographics change, the results do not.

According to "CQ Today- Executive Branch" it was minority groups that raised the alarm about Senator Gregg's nomination for Commerce Secretary. Black and Hispanic leaders raised questions about Gregg's commitment to funding the census.

"Gregg, New Hampshire's senior senator, voted in committee and on the floor for a 1995 Republican budget that envisioned the elimination of the Commerce Department. Of even more concern to black and Hispanic leaders, Gregg battled President Clinton over a request for "emergency"  funding for the 2000 census.

"Secretary of Commerce-designate Judd Gregg 's record raises serious questions about his willingness to ensure that the 2010 Census produces the most accurate possible count of the nation's population," the National Association of Latino Elected Officials said in a release on Tuesday, the day Gregg was named to the post. "Policymakers and planners at all levels of government rely on these data to make important decisions about their services, such as the number of teachers that will be needed in their classrooms, the best places to build new roads, or the best way to provide job training."

"Sen. Gregg's record of previously voting to abolish the Commerce Department and his attempts to block President Bill Clinton's efforts to secure adequate funding for the 2000 Census raise troubling concerns regarding his commitment to the department's core missions," Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee , D-Calif., said Tuesday." (CQ Today)

It was after these concerns were expressed that the White House announced that the Census Bureau would report directly to the White House and not the secretary of commerce.

It was after that announcement that Gregg withdrew his name from the nomination.

The GOP feigned celebration that Gregg had turned away from the enemy and come back to the fold, when in reality I am sure they were distraught. I'm guessing the GOP had been giddy when Gregg was nominated thinking they had pulled a fast one on President Obama by getting one of their own in a position to control the outcome of the Census. A mole, as it were.  What a blow when that power was removed.

In fact Gregg tried to downplay the enormity of losing his power over the Census when he withdrew his nomination saying that the Census had been "only a slight issue"- in his decision to withdraw.

I don't think so. I think it was the reason he withdrew.

In fact in the "National Review," a very conservative publication, made this statement, "The Census will determine how many tax dollars states get in a myriad of federal programs, money that can be used to buy influence, popular support and, yes, votes--particularly in the large urban areas that form the power base of the Democratic Party."

The GOP wanted that power to "buy influence and votes."- They are profoundly aware that their influence has waned in large urban areas where there are decidedly more clusters of minorities who generally support the Democrats.

The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy made this statement about the 2000 Census:

"A new analysis of data from the 2000 Census shows a number of important patterns underlying the increasing diversity in our nation's largest cities. Non-Hispanic whites now represent less than half the population in the nation's largest central cities. The Hispanic population is growing rapidly, while the number of Asians and blacks in central cities are also increasing. These demographic changes will affect the social, economic, political, and fiscal character of our cities."

It is a daunting task to try and count every person of voting age in the United States and several ethnic groups think they have been intentionally ignored during previous Censuses. In order to count as many people as possible the Census Bureau began serious organizing early in 2008.

The 2010 Census Bureau has regional partnership programs set up around the country many of which are staffed with bilingual and those experienced in working with non-English speaking populations.  Regional staff have started outreach to Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native, African American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups, local governments, state governments, tribal governments, businesses, and media outlets. (

It is also in far-flung areas, such as tribal nations that it is often difficult to get a proper census count.  An example of the enormity of finding everyone was stated last week in the Navaho-Hopi Observer.

"The Navajo Nation estimates its population to be approximately 250,000 people with a land base covering over 17 million acres. The Hopi Reservation consists of approximately 1.5 million acres and in the 2000 Census counted 6,946 people."-

The White House wants to make sure there is plenty of funding to achieve as complete and accurate census count as possible. And that's where the disagreement came with Gregg who wanted to spend less money on the census.

By controlling the purse strings, Gregg could have allotted less money making it more difficult to find and count the people in far-flung tribal nations, and dense city areas that often take follow up visits to get completed. However, it would ensure that suburbs, which are mostly white, rich and Republican and easy to get to, would get counted.

Simon Rosenberg, President of NDN, wrote in the Huffington Post on February 12, "During the Clinton administration, Judd Gregg fought hard to deny the Commerce Secretary the ability to use the latest techniques to ensure the most accurate Census count. The goal of this effort was to make it harder for the Census to count minorities, young people and the poor, groups the Republicans do not view as part of their coalition."-

Rosenberg continued, "-those leaders who have a history of exploiting race for political gain have no place in an Obama administration."

And here is an interesting and probably illegal development the GOP used in the last census to hijack political power. It's called prison-based gerrymandering. By counting inmates at prison instead of at home, the bureau allows unscrupulous legislatures to create phantom districts that sometimes contain more inmates than actual constituents. Politicians from these bogus districts can be elected with shockingly small numbers of votes.

In New York, Democratic lawmakers are fuming about the way upstate Republicans parlayed the prison population into a political advantage. Not surprisingly, Democratic lawmakers want a change. They have demanded that the Census Bureau collect the home addresses of all incarcerated persons in the 2010 Census. (The Board: A Blog by the Editorial Writers of The New York Times)

The Republican Party, angry that their plan to control the 2010 Census fell through, is crying foul. The Census Bureau is elated, believing now with oversight from the White House they will be able to get adequate funding for the 2010 Census.

2010 Census politically charged and sexy? You bet!

You can find all of Cheri's columns on Personal About Politics at, or










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Cheri is a single, freelance writer living in Southern California. She has two grown children, one in Iowa and one at Columbia University, and is the proud grandmother of two. Cheri is also a purveyor of fine coffee, warm chatter and dry (more...)
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