“There’s two Latino council members and you have, currently, nine districts,” [District I Council Member James Rodriguez] said. “We’re moving to 11, and we’re going to stay the same. I don’t think that’s progress.”
[Mayor Annise] Parker said a key priority in the proposal, in addition to fairness, was keeping neighborhoods intact.
“We have four majority-Hispanic districts,” Parker said of the plan, noting that the portion of seats in play for Latino voters equates to Hispanics’ 40 percent share of the city’s voting-age population. “Whether or not they are represented by Hispanic public officials, the opportunity is there.”
[Demographer and map designer Jerry] Wood said two key factors make the creation of a third reliably Hispanic district difficult. First, he said, the Hispanic population is integrated throughout the city, leaving few concentrated pockets around which to draw districts. Second, he said, half of Houston’s Hispanic residents were born outside the United States, driving down the number of registered voters.
No voting precinct in the proposed A or F districts — the two most likely to elect a Latino other than the existing H and I strongholds – has a majority of Spanish surnames among its registered voters, Wood said.
A few thoughts here. It is difficult to draw a third seat that would be favored to elect a Latino, for all of the reasons Wood cites, but it is possible to do so. The city has apparently chosen to prioritize keeping neighborhoods together over finding a way to draw a third Latino district. That’s certainly not indefensible, though it is muddied by the fact that one neighborhood did get sliced up, against the wishes of an activist group that attended nearly all of the district meetings on redistricting to advocate for keeping it whole. I’m speaking of the Heights, whose bifurcation allowed the city to restore some Latino voting strength to District H while contributing to the Anglo concentration in J. If you’re willing to do that, why aren’t you willing to do the same in service of a real Latino opportunity district?
But Districts A and F have Latino majorities in them, you say. Well, yes they do. They have them today, in the current map, too. They don’t feel very opportunistic for Latino candidates because while the overall numbers skew that way, the more critical citizen voting age population (CVAP) numbers do not. Here’s a first pass at what the CVAP numbers for the four “Latino opportunity districts” look like. Two of those things are not like the others. It’s disingenuous to claim that A and F represent something new. And I have to say it makes me a little squeamish to see a district that has elected Asian-Americans as its Council member in the last two cycles also be touted as a Latino district. The Asian population is a lot smaller than the Latino population, but it too has grown considerably in the last decade. Can’t we have a map that reflects that growth as well as that of the Latinos?
I know this is hard, and I know that the Planning Department has put heroic amounts of work into creating a map that can never satisfy everyone. I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming them for anything, because I’m not. I also know they’re taking direction from the Mayor’s office, and if the Mayor tells them to tweak things, they can and will. If a third Latino district can’t be created in a way that satisfies the other requirements, let’s be clear about that instead of pointing at illusory opportunities.
Finally, I can’t let this go without mentioning turnout. I have a lot of sympathy for folks like CM James Rodriguez, who says the proposed map “is a plan that Latino leaders, activists and the overall Latino community should not support”, though I note that Stace has a somewhat different take. I strongly believe this process would be easier if Latino turnout in city elections were better, as this would allow smaller CVAP numbers to be relevant. Turnout of registered voters in H and I are always on the low end of the scale. Remember the pathetic turnout for the 2009 special election in District H? That shouldn’t happen. I hope that part of the discussion about how to craft a more representative map also includes a conversation about how to get more people actually involved in the political process. We’re just going through the motions otherwise.
I’m sure there will be plenty more to be said before this is all over. Besides the three Council meetings over the next two Wednesdays devoted to this, there are still approvals to be gotten and a vote by Council to finalize the boundaries. There are still plenty of opportunities to be heard if you want to be. A statement from Council Member Ed Gonzalez is here.