VOICES: Latino growth sparks Texas redistricting fight
We've been saying at News Taco how Texas has become the face of the new America, where Latinos have grown in numbers and influence, where most of the kids in public schools are Latino, where, as demographer Steve Murdock put it, "it's basically over for Anglo's."
The fundamental message is: if you want to see what America will look like tomorrow, take a look at Texas today. That goes for what's going on behind closed doors as well. There's a contingent of Republican politicians who believe they can still pull strings and manipulate political futures in Texas, despite the fact that the population odds are against them. This has turned into strange party in-fighting with very odd bedfellows.
Let me try to explain this fight, as reported in Politico.com:
First, the lay of the land. Texas has gained four congressional seats, mainly because of the increase in Latino population. The Texas redistricting process, which is set to officially begin shortly, is by tradition a cross between a swap meet and a bull ride. Texas Rep. Joe Barton wants all of those new district's to be drawn as Republican-majority, to bolster the 23 to 9 Republican edge in the Texas Congressional delegation. But Rep. Lamar Smith, yes that Lamar Smith, is being the voice of reason. He's trying to negotiate (cut a deal, really) with Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, for a bi-partisan compromise.
And with concerns over the Voting Rights Act -- which bars congressional districts from being drawn in a way that dilutes minority voting power -- coming into play, Smith brought in an official from the Texas Supreme Court last week to tell GOP lawmakers that there is no way to craft solid GOP districts that would meet Justice Department or federal court approval. Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is one of 16 states that needs outside approval to implement new state and federal districts.
There's a term for what Barton want's to do, we call it "bleaching," where the lines are drawn to include more white voters in a district. But even Lamar Smith sees that the new demographic reality in Texas is such that bleaching is also "basically over." Barton's plan would essentially eliminate all prospects for Latinos in those new districts to be elected to Congress.
Barton is "spittin' mad."
Barton has harshly criticized Smith during Texas GOP delegation meetings, launching a profanity-laced tirade at Smith during one session early last month, and he's privately tried to oust Smith as the lead Republican negotiator on redistricting.
Texas Governor Rick Perry has a plan of his own; he'd like to see three of the four new districts to "go Republican." He's thinking of by-passing the Justice Department review, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act, and going directly to Federal Court to state his case. In the end, Perry holds the trump.
If the Texas House and Senate cannot agree on outlines for the new congressional districts, Perry can convene a special session of the Legislature to do so. If no special session is called, a state or federal judge would likely draw the districts.
Victor Landa is editor and founder of NewsTaco, a website which provides "innovative and insightful news, critique, analysis and opinion from a Latino perspective," and where an earlier version of this story appeared.
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