Tea Party could cost Republicans in census

By John Byrne
Monday, April 5, 2010 9:00 EDT
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Republicans were thrilled when Tea Party-backed Scott Brown won a special election to capture Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.

But they’re not quite as thrilled with the Tea Party now. Angst at the government in power may fuel some conservatives to boycott the US census, costing their party coveted seats in Congress for years to come. Republicans could also lose seats in state legislatures if districts are redrawn.

The US population count, done every ten years, determines how House seats are allocated and informs distribution of federal funding.

“Conservative activists this year have argued it is unconstitutional for the census to ask anything beyond the number of people in a household,” the Wall Street Journal‘s Naftali Bendavid wrote Monday. This year’s census form also seeks information on race, gender and age, among other things, and filling it out is required by law. The census has asked similar questions for decades.”

Those who don’t fill out the full form risk a $100 fine and the chance that a Census worker will show up on their doorstep.

Among the states with the lowest census response so far? Conservative states including Texas and Alabama, where about 48 percent and 53 percent have filled out and mailed in forms, Bendavid notes. Massachusetts’ response rate is higher, at 57 percent (though New York is also lower than the national average, at 50 percent).

Nationally, about 56 percent of households have filled out and sent in their forms.

Conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has said she’ll refuse to fill out anything beyond the number in her household; libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) voted against a congressional measure urging participation.

The census “has grown far beyond what the framers of our Constitution intended,” Paul said after the House vote.

Questions about ethnicity, income and religious affiliation? “From a constitutional perspective, of course, the answer to each of these questions is: ‘None of your business,’” Paul remarked. “But the bigger question is — why government is so intent on compiling this information in the first place?”

“The census should be nothing more than a headcount,” he added in a recent column.

On the other side are congressional Republicans like Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who declare the filling out the form is a constitutional imperative.

In a blog posting at RedState.com Apr. 1, McHenry wrote: “What worries me is blatant misinformation coming from otherwise well-meaning conservatives. They are trying to do the right thing, but instead they are helping big government liberals by discouraging fellow conservatives from filling out their census forms.

“Few things make will make Nancy Pelosi happier than large numbers of conservatives failing to respond to the census,” he added. “If we do not respond, we will not be counted and if we are not counted, then we effectively will not exist. That would reduce conservatives’ power in elections, allow Democrats to draw more favorable congressional boundaries and help put more tax-hiking politicians in office.”

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