Editorial: Public input critical as Texas Legislature considers redistricting maps

fwst_rPosted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013

Special to the Star-Telegram

For the third time in 10 years, Texas Republicans are attempting to ram through redistricting plans that discriminate against African-American and Latino voters, unfairly divide communities and artificially inflate GOP power.

In 2003, Texas Republicans followed then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s orders to redraw congressional districts to eliminate seven Democratic members of Congress, costing Texas more than 75 years of seniority and experience in Washington.

In 2011, Texas Republicans passed maps for Congress and the Texas Legislature that were found by a panel of federal judges to violate the Voting Rights Act and/or intentionally discriminate against minority voters.

Now, at the behest of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Gov. Rick Perry hastily called a special session of the Legislature to adopt the temporary maps used in the 2012 elections as the permanent maps for the rest of the decade. Those interim maps for the Texas House and Congress retain many of the features judged to be in violation of the law. They should not be made permanent.

In Tarrant and Dallas counties, there are more than 2 million African-Americans and Latinos — more than enough population to retain the two existing African-American opportunity congressional districts (Districts 30 and 33) while creating a new, Latino opportunity district anchored in Dallas County.

In the Corpus Christi area, the interim congressional map strands more than 200,000 Latinos in a gerrymandered district rigged to elect an Anglo Republican. And in Austin, the map needlessly splits Travis County five ways.

Similarly, the interim map for the state House is flawed and must be corrected. In Tarrant County, African-Americans and Latinos make up 42 percent of the population, yet they only have the ability to elect their candidate of choice in three out of 11 (or 27 percent) of the districts.

This pattern repeats itself around the state, with the map drawn to “pack” minority voters into as few districts as possible and then “crack” remaining minority communities among multiple Anglo-dominated districts.

In addition to the serious legal issues that must be addressed, there is also a basic fairness problem with the interim maps. Consider that, in 2012, President Obama carried Tarrant and Dallas counties combined by more than 13,000 votes. Yet, out of the 10 congressional districts that are wholly or partly within these two counties, only two are represented by Democrats.

The ratio is a little better in the interim state House map. Of 25 House districts in Tarrant and Dallas counties, only nine (36 percent) are represented by Democrats.

When a San Antonio federal court issued the interim maps so the 2012 elections could proceed, the judges were very clear that there were numerous unresolved legal issues, saying “This interim plan is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims.”

It’s important that state leaders hear from the public on this fundamental issue of fair representation.

The House Redistricting Committee will hold a public hearing Thursday starting at 2 p.m. at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit headquarters in Dallas, 1401 Pacific Ave.

I hope this committee will hear loud and clear from North Texas that we deserve fair, non-discriminatory districts for the Legislature and Congress.

Texas Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, represents District 101.