- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The conservative “red” states should see their political clout enhanced as a result of the Census Bureau’s announcement Tuesday that the nation’s population grew 9.7 percent over the past decade to nearly 309 million, with the fastest growth centered in states that went Republican in the 2008 presidential election.

In all, eight states will gain at least one House seat, led by Texas with four new seats, and 10 states will lose at least one seat in the 435-member House in the reapportionment that takes place in the wake of the national head count.

According to the first data released by the Census Bureau, the U.S. population of the 50 states and the District of Columbia was 308,745,538 on April 1, 2010, up from 281,421,906 registered 10 years ago.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves told reporters Tuesday morning that about 60 percent of the population growth was a result of natural increases in the existing population, while 40 percent came from immigration.

The growth rate in the 2000s, however, was the lowest for a decade since the Great Depression years of the 1930s.

Mr. Groves and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke released the findings at a news conference in Washington.

The census, taken 23 times since 1790 and mandated every 10 years by the Constitution, helps apportion seats in the House of Representatives and, as a result, the votes in the Electoral College. It also is used to distribute billions of dollars in revenue and federal aid for states and localities based on their population counts.

As a result of the 2010 numbers, eight states will gain House seats in the 2012 elections, led by Texas’ four seats and Florida, which gained two. Others gaining a single House seat were Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

New York and Ohio were the big losers, both shedding two House seats, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will lose one seat.

Overall, the states that went for John McCain in the 2008 presidential race will gain six seats, and thus six votes in the Electoral College, while the states that supported Barack Obama will lose six.

However, the biggest gainers - Texas and Florida - are states with large and growing Hispanic-immigrant populations, which will force new challenges on Republicans this decade in their efforts to remain competitive or dominant in those states and such other growing states as Nevada and Arizona.

“Five of the eight states gaining congressional districts went for John McCain in 2008,” Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus said of the red-state census gains.

“Overall, the new census numbers are good news for Republicans, but also serve as a reminder that the GOP needs to double down its efforts to woo the Hispanic vote, and to do it with a focus on a package of issues rather than assuming all Hispanic voters are committed to voting exclusively on issues addressing illegal entrants into the United States,” she said.

Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies said the Census Bureau’s 40 percent figure understates the extent to which immigration was the force behind the population increase.

He noted in a statement that “there were also about 8.2 million births to immigrant women during the decade,” which, if combined with the number of immigrants themselves, would mean “three-quarters of population growth during the decade” was attributable to immigration.

“Without a change in immigration policy, the nation is projected to add roughly 30 million new residents each decade for the foreseeable future,” he said.

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said the count is not fair. His group plans to launch an “unprecedented” lobbying campaign after the new year to ask Congress to remove immigrants from voting ranks that apportion new districts.

He argues that illegal immigrants make up the bulk of changes in population in the states that the new census data are tracking.

“We feel that it is inappropriate that any American should gain or lose representation based off of criminal activity,” Mr. Gheen said of illegal immigrants used in census counts. “We hope that Congress will not allow so many Americans to have their voting power stolen. Illegal immigrants being counted in the census and being used for political empowerment is unfair to American citizens. The federal government has the ability to remove them from the apportionment equation and consider using the data they have as a deportation tool. I think we are going to have them on the run with the new Congress.”

The decennial reshuffling of the House numbers always produces high-stakes battles in state legislatures, which draw the electoral maps for congressional and state legislative districts based on the census numbers. Those 2011 fights likely will be the most brutal in the 18 states that will gain or lose seats.

“This year’s once-in-a-decade scramble to redraw congressional boundaries is likely to be one of the most contentious in history,” said a statement by Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist and editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. “Given high levels of partisan polarization and the technological ability to identify population distributions far more precisely than before, the redistricting cycle will be intense.”

In politically unpredictable Florida, where a newly elected GOP governor will take office amid economic straits and a lack of support from his own party’s establishment, Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said the state’s two additional House seats were cause for celebration, upping Florida’s political clout as “the largest and most important swing state” in presidential elections.

He also warned the state Legislature against gerrymandering, noting that voters had passed an initiative to limit lawmakers’ ability to draw electoral boundaries to benefit themselves.

“As the Legislature moves forward with reapportionment, it is important to remember that the people of Florida have spoken when voters approved the Fair District Amendments this fall, with nearly 63 percent voting to adopt these standards, now enshrined in our Constitution,” Mr. Arceneaux said of the redistricting.

“Floridians of all parties can look forward to districts that truly reflect their communities and representation that represents the diversity of our great state, rather than the partisan gerrymandering that best describes the current districts.”

California remained the nation’s most populous state, while Wyoming was the least populated, the census count found.

Texas registered the highest numerical population gains, while Nevada marked the highest percentage rise - up 35.1 percent - since 2000. The South and West notched the largest population increases, but smaller growth also was reported in both the Northeast and Midwest regions.

Michigan, hit hard by the recession amid massive losses in manufacturing jobs, was the only state to decline in population, dropping 0.6 percent since 2000.

“It’s been a very wrenching transition for the Michigan economy, and therefore, the population losses are not a big surprise,” said Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard, noting the struggling manufacturing and auto-production sectors. “We’re right back to where we started 10 years ago.”

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he did not think the new data offered “a huge practical impact” on the nation.

Mr. Locke reported that the 2010 census came in under budget by $1.87 billion. A hefty 74 percent of U.S. households returned the census questionnaire by mail, exceeding predictions and halting three decades of decline in mail-in participation.

“Much is riding on the results,” Mr. Locke said, including funding allotments for education, transportation and law enforcement, as well as the makeup of state legislatures. The census also provides data that could prove critical in private-sector investment decisions.

The Census Bureau will release further findings from the 2010 count as it continues its research on the data in the months ahead.