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Commerce Department Releases 2000 Census Figures

Aired December 28, 2000 - 11:01 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just moments away, right now, from getting the first official census numbers for 2000. Those figures will be released shortly at a news conference briefing in Washington. We will show that live when it starts.

Both major political parties will be watching the new numbers. Besides telling us how many Americans there are now, the census also will affect how many representatives each state will get in Congress.

Watching right along with us in these new census figures is, joining us, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, who we tracked down in Los Angeles.

A little bit early for you to get up, Bill -- good morning.


KAGAN: I know you wouldn't have gotten up if you didn't find these numbers to be fascinating, and it's more...

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

KAGAN: Yes -- it's more than just figuring out how many Americans there are out there. Why are these numbers important?

SCHNEIDER: These numbers are important because they determine how many representatives in Congress each state will have, and for the rest of the country, that's important because it tells us how many electoral votes each state will have -- remember those electoral votes?

KAGAN: We had that civics lesson for over a month, didn't we?

SCHNEIDER: Over a month, and we just got a new president. President-elect Bush was elected by the Electoral College by -- with just 271 votes -- that's one more than a majority of the Electoral College. So this is absolutely crucial in presidential elections, not just congressional elections.

KAGAN: And let's look at the significance, first to the states that stand to gain. Arizona, Texas and Georgia possibly gaining two more representatives.

SCHNEIDER: And all of those are in the South and West, and all of those voted for George Bush. Those are the big winners in the Electoral College.

There are a few states -- four more -- that are likely to gain one seat: California, which had hoped to gain two, looks like it'll only one, although we'll hear in a few minutes whether they might have come through with that second seat. California gained seven seats after the 1990 census, but they had a slow growth period in the early '90s. So it looks like they're just going to pick up one.

Plus Nevada, one of the fastest growing states in the country, will pick up a seat, Colorado, and of course, Florida is going to get an additional electoral vote.

KAGAN: Florida getting even one more, one more electoral vote.

Bill, we will have you stand by.

One of the states that looks like it is expected to lose a couple of seats could be the state of New York.

And we have with us on the phone right now -- actually, live with us -- is Democrat Sheldon Silver. He is the speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Mr. Silver, good morning, thanks for joining us.

SHELDON SILVER (D), NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: Good morning, a pleasure to be with you.

KAGAN: If it indeed does turn out that New York loses two seats: One, is this a surprise, and two, how disappointing is that?

SILVER: Well, it is anticipated New York will lose one or two seats. While New York's population has grown, it hasn't grown as much as some of the other states that you spoke of.

So you know, we want to see a professional count of the census -- we'll look at the raw data, and, hopefully, be able to do the best we can for New York.

KAGAN: Well, as you point out, this is just data to start with. From there, things have to happen. Who loses out, who no longer will have their seat in Congress if, indeed, you do lose a couple of seats?

SILVER: Well, that's something that we don't determine; obviously, voters determine that. The same people vote -- they just vote on larger geographic congressional districts, and at some point members of the Congress, if they're incumbents, their districts, you know, get divided over larger districts is what happens, so...

KAGAN: Yes, that -- that dividing of lines is important stuff.

Bill Schneider, still in Los Angeles. The statesmen individually decide how their congressional districts are drawn -- is that right?

SILVER: That is correct.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, they draw the district line -- as Mr. Silver said, they draw the district lines themselves.

One controversy that occurred over these census figures was whether a process called statistical estimation could be used because so many are missed by the census takers -- they can't find them: There are lots of immigrants, lots of homeless people who cannot be found. And what the Supreme Court, about a year ago, in a decision, was that the number of seats...

KAGAN: Bill, Bill, stand by. An important point you're making, but we want to go live to the event. We'll get back to the idea of how they count it.

They're drawing the curtain -- let's take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... is 281,421,906 -- big jump, big jump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better get them all in there, we don't want to lose Alaska, Massachusetts, get all the corners in.

You'll see that's about a 13.2 percent increase since 1990.

NORMAN MINETA, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Thank you very much, Dr. Purit -- Prewitt -- appreciate very much the hard work that all of you at the Census Bureau have put into this effort.

A year ago, we were worried about Y2K -- remember that? We didn't know what would happen as the calendar turned over to the year 2000. Aside from the potential computer problems, there were important political and economic issues confronting us, as the year started. There was a lot of uncertainty, but one thing was certain: The United States would take its next census of the population, just as the law mandated.

Now for several reasons, I have a great feeling of pride as I stand here. Just an hour ago, I accepted the first results from Census 2000 from the Census Bureau director, Dr. Ken Prewitt, and Undersecretary Robert Shapiro. I have forwarded them to president Clinton, performing the same role as Thomas Jefferson did when he turned over the results of the first U.S. Census to President Washington, in 1791.

Now this morning's event is exactly what that group of farseeing people we now call the framers had in mind when they wrote the requirements for a periodic census into the very first article of the Constitution, in 1783. They did not know what the future would bring, but they did have a goal, and that was to build a government that was representative, at least in terms of the day.

To do that, they had to come up with some means of a regular, orderly apportionment of political power to reflect the growth and changes in the nation, and they knew that those changes were sure to come.

Their answer was the census. It is not an exaggeration to say that the census is a cornerstone of our representative form of government. All of us here are witnesses to an ongoing history, one that is 210 years old, but is as modern as today. In effect, we are reading the most recent chapter in our nation's history as told by the census, and what a great story it tells.

The first census took place in 1790, and it took 18 months to conduct -- so long, in fact, that two states joined the union during the census. The tally showed a population of just under four million people. Now, that worked out to each member of the House of Representatives representing 34,000 fellow Americans. Today, each member represents over 600,000 Americans.

Now each decade, census figures documented the growth and the movement of the population into the vast areas of the Louisiana Purchase, the opening of the West, and the closing of the frontier by 1890, and then the great waves of immigration at the turn of the 20th century.

Through the upheavals of war, natural disasters and economic depressions, the U.S. Census has always been taken on time, has always given us the increasingly needed detailed portrait of a creative, energetic people, their accomplishments and their challenges.

And so today we release the first numbers from the most complex census ever taken. America's population is the largest ever. It lives in the largest number of housing units ever, in a variety of living arrangements.

Now, while the population gets larger each decade, and the number of housing units grow at an even faster pace, the time set by law to conduct the census remains the same. The census officially is taken as of April 1, and the results are due by December 31 of the same year.

Now, this is a great challenge, especially when the accuracy of the results is so important. But the Census Bureau has been up to this challenge. It devised and implemented a plan that took into account the changes in American society...

KAGAN: We've been listening in to Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta as he reveals the new census numbers for 2000.

In case you are counting, there are -- according to the U.S. government -- 281,421,906 Americans out there, according to the 2000 census.

Going back to Bill Schneider. You were making an interesting point before we went to this live event: controversy even leading up to this census about, simply, the discussion of how the census should be counting Americans in the first place.

SCHNEIDER: That's right, the controversy was over the procedure called statistical estimation, which is what do you when you're not sure you can collect all the data by actually going out and finding people: You estimate the number of people that you might have missed.

Now, this is an accepted procedure by social scientists, it's regarded as accurate -- let me put it this way: It is believed that the error made in actually sending out census takers to every block and every household and looking in homeless shelters and hospitals and prisons and all that, that's filled with a lot of error: They miss people, they count people twice, they have to go back again and again. And so statisticians argue that it's more accurate to estimate the number of people you might have missed, based on some very, very careful procedures. However...

KAGAN: But Bill, in the interest of the political discussion, we should also point out that it's the Democrats that wanted to do it that way and Republicans who wanted to do it another way.

SCHNEIDER: That's right, the Democrats thought that the estimation would be the more accurate procedure, so what the Supreme Court ruled was that the Constitution requires that the allocation of the number of seats for each state, that has to be done based on an actual count, which is what the Republicans wanted -- but the Supreme Court allows the states to use the estimated numbers -- which will be slightly different, presumably including more minorities and poor people and homeless people -- that -- and immigrants -- that the estimation deal is allowed to be used, if states want to, for drawing the lines within each state to the determine what district every member of Congress and each state legislator represents.

KAGAN: So does that mean it'll be different on a state-by-state basis?

SCHNEIDER: It could be. Each state to make up its mind which kinds of figures to use. And I should mention that when the census counts people, it counts everybody: Children, who are -- who don't vote are counted; even illegal immigrants are counted. That number we saw before -- 281 million plus -- that includes every human being residing in the United States.

KAGAN: Let's go back to Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York state House.

Thanks for still being with us.

Do you know which numbers state of New York will be using?

SILVER: We have not made that determination yet. We have to look at the raw data first. There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of census blocks that contain raw data that will be transmitted to us after this release today. We'll have to digest that, see what method has been used in coming to the conclusion and then go from there.

KAGAN: Thank you very much.

I believe we have on the phone with us -- while the state of New York looks like it's going to be two seats, the state of Arizona, one of the states that could be gaining as many as two seats -- and we have on the phone with us, right now, Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who represents the Phoenix area.

Congressman, good morning, thanks you for joining us. REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, this could be great news for Arizona, couldn't it, if you get to get two more seats in Congress, a little bit more company for you?

HAYWORTH: Well, you know, Daryn -- and I guess for purposes of full disclosure, we should point out your broadcast history: You spent time in Phoenix, and...

KAGAN: About five and a half years, working in...

HAYWORTH: And you understand how much the area has grown. Just think of it: A century ago, Arizona was not even a state. It's the youngest of the 48 contiguous states, and, Daryn, as you know, we couldn't keep this great place a secret for too long.

KAGAN: Not from too many people.

HAYWORTH: More and more people are coming here, and it bodes very well for our state -- and actually, the district I represent, currently is almost the size of Pennsylvania. So this will result in smaller geographical districts and more representation and more clout in Washington for Arizona.

KAGAN: But congressman, first what has to be done is the decision of how those districts are drawn, and that will happen in the state legislature. How do you think that that process will go?

HAYWORTH: Well, we've made a bit of a change here, Daryn. As you're well aware, we have an active system of the petition and referenda, or initiative system -- ballot initiative system. And a majority of Arizona voters indicated in the last election that they wanted to set up an independent redistricting commission.

KAGAN: Really -- so who would be on that commission?

HAYWORTH: So that changes the picture somewhat. I think it's impossible to take the politics out of political decisions, but I suppose that is the stated aim of what was called the fair districts, fair elections campaign.

So we're really turning the page in Arizona history, and for political journalists like Bill Schneider, it's a great story because we'll have to see what changes are wrought in the wake of an independent commission.

KAGAN: Well, maybe we'll have to get Bill Schneider a little plane ticket from L.A., where he is now, over to Arizona and he can check out the story for himself.

HAYWORTH: And we look forward to you coming back to the area sometime soon, Daryn.

KAGAN: You know, I always love to visit. That's Congressman J.D. Hayworth on the phone with us, from the Phoenix area. We expect, when we do see that latest census numbers, that the state of Arizona will be gaining two more seats to sit in Congress.

And we also want to say thank you, as well, to Sheldon Silver, joining from -- as speaker of the New York state assembly, as well.

Bill Schneider, are you still with us?

SCHNEIDER: There is kind of milestone here -- I don't know if Assemblyman Silver is still there -- but in the current number of electoral votes, Texas, in this year's presidential election, had 32 electoral votes -- New York had 33. Well, New York is slated to lose two seats, which means they'll go down to 31, and Texas is slated to gain two, which means they will get 34 electoral votes. And that means for the first time ever Texas will have more clout than New York.

KAGAN: That will be interesting to follow, as well, especially since the president-elect coming from that state.

One quick question, Bill, were you able to hear Congressman Hayworth describe what they decided to do in Arizona, how the people have decided they want a commission to decide how that redistricting is going to take place?

SCHNEIDER: That's right, that's a way of trying to remove it from politics. You can never do that entirely, but the idea is to hand it over to experts -- usually, the commission is judges, or former judges, who are supposed to be impartial -- because, look, when you draw district lines -- you know, every congressman, every state legislator wants a district that's perfect for himself or herself, a district that contains voters who are familiar with them and voters of a certain party.

So the idea is that they want to try to take politics out of it -- they can never do that entirely. Most states, however, allow it to be done by the state legislature and the governor, and therefore, the fact that the state legislatures, right now, are very closely balanced between Democrats and Republicans -- are the closest balance in about 50 years -- means that they're going to try -- that the Republicans have more of a hand in redistricting in most states than they have in the past.

KAGAN: It's going to be interesting to watch. The numbers are just the beginning.

Bill Schneider, in Los Angeles, thank you very much.

And once again, thanks to Congressman J.D. Hayworth and also to Sheldon Silver in the state of New York.



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