Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, was in Denver on Thursday, September 27, on a get-out-the-vote campaign and to lend his support for two redistricting measures on Colorado’s ballot in November: Amendments Y and Z.
Holder was the main panel speaker at a discussion held at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center, a hub for community organizing in Five Points that’s run by Jeff Fard, who also edits and publishes 5 Points News. Fard moderated the panel, which included Holder, Democratic candidate for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and John Walsh, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado.
As moderator, Fard kept the hour-long conversation focused on problems caused by partisan redistricting, specifically how it affects communities of color, such as Five Points.
Realizing the audience probably needed a primer, Holder explained: “You see the greatest amount of voter suppression in the same areas where you see the greatest amount of gerrymandering. ... It’s a mechanism by which people can [be elected] and go to Congress or state legislatures and don’t listen to their constituents. They pass bills that are not popular with the people that they’re supposed to represent."
Districts are drawn after each census is compiled, taking into account population changes throughout the state. But in cases of gerrymandering, district lines are drawn so that they divvy up voting populations based on factors such as political party, racial identity and socioeconomic status. The next redistricting is set to take place after the 2020 U.S. Census.
Colorado’s Amendments Y and Z propose taking congressional and legislative redistricting power away from commissions at the state level and instead putting the task in the hands of independent commissions composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and four independent voters.
Aside from plugging the measures, Holder spoke about efforts to protect communities of color from voter suppression in the Trump era. It was not lost on anyone that, as the panel in Five Points took place, the historic Kavanaugh hearing was entering its seventh hour in Washington, D.C.
“I think we can expect a new Supreme Court justice — whether or not it's Kavanaugh — to be not friendly to people seeking to make sure states don’t pass discriminatory voter laws,” Holder said. “Therefore, it really is important to put in place people at the state level. The Supreme Court is only ruling on laws that are passed in the states. Focusing on state elected offices — governor, secretary of state, state legislator — matters…the answer is simple: Vote!”
Holder also addressed ongoing lawsuits fighting voter suppression and census representation, including one filed by the Democratic National Committee against a question that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions want to include on the 2020 census that would ask about citizenship status. Holder said the question is meant to scare people, particularly in immigrant communities, from participating in the census, which would also skew population data, therefore hampering fair redistricting.
“The citizenship question has not been on the census since 1950, and it is not necessary to support the Voting Rights Act, as Jeff Sessions says,” Holder explained. “So Jeff Sessions says it’s needed to support the Voting Rights Act? If you look up hypocrisy in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Jeff Sessions."
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After a provocative question from Fard asking Holder to address “critiques out there” that a black president and black attorney general didn’t do more to help communities of color during Obama’s eight years in office, Holder went on the defensive.
“With all due respect, that shows a glaring lack of knowledge about what the Obama administration did,” he said, pointing out how the Affordable Care Act helped communities of color and mentioning other efforts to enact criminal justice reform.
He wasn’t pressed on these points, though, even as one audience member muttered, “Why did Eric Holder fail to prosecute the criminals of Wall Street?"
Throughout the hour, Holder kept returning to the importance of voting. “Our democracy is under attack. This midterm election is the most important election of our time," he said.