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Obama's Census-ational Power Grab By: Alyssa A. Lappen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 13, 2009


After President Barack Obama nominated his second Commerce Secretary candidate in two weeks, his uber-liberal core constituency began screeching that his “big tent” was “bursting at the seams.” A grand jury investigation into state contracts for political donors had forced New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to drop out and Obama tapped New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. California Rep. Barbara Lee petulantly decried Gregg's complaints over Clinton Administration Census Bureau methods.

Gregg didn't refuse to fund the Census, as Lee wants the public to believe. He objected to Clinton administration attempts to “redraw their congressional districts” and reallocate federal grants to states with “statistical sampling” adjustments. The Supreme Court ruled against Census use of statistical sampling to reapportion the 435 House of Representative seats in the 1999 case Commerce Department v. U.S. House. Alas, the high court did not outlaw statistical samples methods to redistrict within states. But Lee got her way: Gregg too dropped out on February 12, citing his dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the census and stimulus packages Thus, the “recurrent fantasy of Census critics on the Left” remains, to revise “population numbers more to their liking,” observes former Census chief Bruce Chapman (1981-1983). If successful, such a feat would redistribute power and funds for least a decade -- and could permanently damage America's political landscape and its carefully constructed internal balance of power.

Nevertheless, President Obama  relaunched the notion into political play on February 5. The Census Census Bureau will report directly to his Chief of Staff for the 2010 decennial count. Wresting Census from Commerce Department to White House control threatens “reckless politicization of the Census Bureau.” It could project “the image of a Chicago-style partisan power play” -- and corrupt all fundamental data sustaining U.S. national statistics. Obama is a Daley-style Democrat, though, and Democratic party stalwarts since Jimmy Carter have broadly supported deploying the Census to their permanent political advantage. In 1978, President Carter ordered immigration enforcement officers not to arrest illegal aliens without executive branch approval, reports retired senior INS investigator Michael Cutler, who afterwards sarcastically labeled them “pre-citizens.” Angry immigration enforcement officers nationwide adopted Cutler's term to protest Carter's outrageous political maneuver. 

Over law enforcement objections, Democrats have been monkeying with the Census ever since. Besides Obama, the chief culprits today are partisans like New York City Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a former ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Federalism and the Census, who want Obama to appoint former Census chief Kenneth Prewitt to head the 2010 Census. Prewitt advocated “statistical sampling” to reapportion House seats under Clinton, until the Supreme Court nixed it in 1999.  

Then, as now, Democrats coveted statistical projection to enumerate for the census rather than counting individuals one by one. Opponents correctly recognize “the proposal as a violation of the Constitution, which calls for 'actual enumeration',” and an obvious ploy to bolster Democratic standing in congressional redistricting following the census, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

In politics, though, pretense is everything. 

As “one of our country's premier scientific agencies,” the Census Bureau “should be accorded the status of peers such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation,” Maloney said last September, on introducing the “Restoring the Integrity of American Statistics Act of 2008” to make it independent in 2012. With backing from the census chiefs of the last seven presidents, from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush, Maloney heralded the bill as “a clear signal to Americans that the agency they depend upon for unbiased monthly economic data as well as the important decennial portrait of our nation is independent, fair, and protected from interference.” It went no where, although Maloney plans to reintroduce the bill this session. 

Yet in February 2009, Maloney sings a different tune. “Obama won the election. Ultimately he's the boss anyway,” says a staff member, waving her true political colors. Therefore, the argument goes, it doesn't matter whether the Census Bureau reports to the White House or Commerce. And on Feb. 12, Maloney claimed that former Census chiefs' concerns over the Obama administration Census agency hijacking amount to a “page from Seinfeld...a show about nothing.” 

Chapman and Charles Louis Kincannon (Census chief, 2002-2008) vociferously disagree. Science should be scientific. Statisticians almost universally reject adjusting numbers. It follows that having Census report to the White House---which has previously never been done---would turn statistical science “into something where speculation and guesswork could introduce egregious and prejudicial errors.”  

It is bad enough that the Constitutional Census clause does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens. The founding fathers would undoubtedly have cast it differently had they envisioned a time when illegal aliens would distort the rights of citizens to fair representation.    

“Undocumented is synonymous with unauthorized and illegal,” observes Connecticut Data Center manager Orlando J. Rodriguez at the University of Connecticut. Illegal aliens, if counted, will “distort the relative voting power of all citizens nationwide,” thereby influencing “America's representative political system.” Excluding non-voters from congressional reapportionment would provide a much broader geographical dispersement of House seats, and fairer citizen and voter representation, he found in 2007 and subsequent studies. The converse is to allow illegal alien settlement to generate Congressional seats for southern border states at the expense of citizens and voters in northern and mid-western states.  

Most disconcerting, however, is Democrats' “plain hope” to leverage illegal aliens via controversial sampling and computer modeling to “'adjust' the Census numbers in 2010,” and further distort citizens' relative voting power. Surely, Americans should not tolerate a political party redistributing power and funds away from  citizens by riding roughshod over the Constitutional requirement for actual numeration. 

“Let's see,” Chapman quips of Democratic concerns. Obama Commerce nominee Gregg “cannot be trusted, but the Democratic politicos in the West Wing can?”  

By commandeering the Census Bureau, Obama may hope to orchestrate a silent political coup. If so, however, key House Democrats insist this amounts to “nothing.”


Alyssa A. Lappen is a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy, former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor, Working Woman and Corporate Finance, and former Associate Editor of Forbes. Her website is www.AlyssaaLappen.org.





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