News Column

Minority Texas Democrats Say They're Locked Out of Redistricting Process

May 29, 2013
Texas Map

A leader of Hispanics in the Legislature on Wednesday said he continues to be locked out of the process to draw congressional and state legislative districts as the Legislature takes up the issue in special session.

Another advocate said that if the districts were drawn fairly, Democrats would have 10 more seats in the Texas House and two more in Congress.

In addition, Congressional District 23, which includes a large swath of the Lower Valley in El Paso, continues to be problematic even under court-drawn, interim maps that Republican officials want to make permanent, several lawyers said Wednesday.

They were in San Antonio for a hearing before three federal judges in a lawsuit brought by the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and others over district maps drawn by Texas Republicans in 2011. The court was holding a status hearing two days after Gov. Rick Perry called a special session of the Legislature to make permanent interim maps drawn by the judges last year.

In 2012, primaries were delayed for months after the judges threw out the Republican maps. The U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit later ruled they had been drawn with the intent to discriminate against minority voters by diluting their opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice.

Even though rapid Hispanic growth in Texas was the primary reason it added five congressional districts in 2012, the court ruled that only one was such a "minority opportunity" district.

Perry called

the Legislature into session Monday after Attorney General Greg Abbott urged him to try to get the House and the Senate to enshrine them in law.

Michael Li, a redistricting expert who runs an influential blog on the topic, has speculated that Abbott wanted to make the interim maps permanent in order to avoid the sort of delays that happened in the 2012 primaries as candidates waited to find out what districts they would run in. Those delays allowed Ted Cruz to catch up to and overtake Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in last year's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

In court Wednesday, Li said he doubted there will again be delays in the 2014 primaries regardless of what happens in the San Antonio court or in a related civil rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the interim maps proved serviceable enough last year that they could be used again.

But this week's moves by Perry and other Republican leaders did nothing to ease the grievances of those who brought the lawsuit in the first place.

"They're just putting lipstick on a pig," said Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. Fischer is chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and is one of the House negotiators for the redistricting legislation now under consideration.

Fischer said that by putting only the interim maps on the agenda for the special session, Perry and other Republicans demonstrated that they didn't want any input from Martinez's group or from legislators with African American constituencies.

"The Legislature has never intended to open the redistricting process," he said.

Dewhurst added to the bad feelings on Monday when he refused to reinstate a rule for the special session under which Senators needed a two-thirds majority to bring bills up for consideration. Democrats, who hold 12 of the 31votes in the Senate, said that sapped them of the blocking power they had in the regular session.

"I think that's another act of intentional discrimination," said Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP's Texas State Conference. Republican elected officials did not attend Wednesday's hearing, in which the state's lawyers argued that all substantive problems were addressed by the interim legislative maps.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said many problems were left unaddressed by the interim maps because they were found by the D.C. Circuit after the San Antonio Judges drew them.

There is some question whether the court will have to address those concerns because the Supreme Court is expected to strike down the section of the Civil Rights Act under which the D.C. Circuit considered the Texas maps.

The fight over redistricting is about civil rights, but it's also about political power, said Matt Angle of the activist group, the Lone Star Project. He said that in Texas, districts that have elected black and Latino Republicans have the same demographic makeup as districts that elect white Republicans. In other words, Republicans who are themselves minorities don't represent heavily minority constituencies and don't have to serve their agendas.

Angle said if those constituencies were fairly represented, Democrats would have 10 more seats in the Texas House, or 65 of the 150 seats in the chamber. In Congress, 14 of Texas' 36 congressmen would be Democrats instead of the 12 there are now. Angle said the 23rd District seat, currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine would be significantly different than it is now. Some Anglos n north San Antonio might be removed from the district in favor of more Hispanic areas, Angle said. As an example of the deliberate, racial gamesmanship behind the GOP's 2011 maps, Angle cited Republican mapmakers' "nudge memos." They discussed moving minories with poor voting history into certain districts to make them look like opportunity districts when actually they were secure for the GOP.



Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Distributed by MCT Information Services