There really aren’t any other kind of redistricting hearings, when you get right down to it.
Most of the testimony centered on whether to approve interim political maps used in the 2012 elections, or toss those lines out in favor of proposals that would create three congressional districts in North Texas where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice.
Black voters currently control two congressional districts in North Texas — one represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and one by Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Both are Democrats.
Activists and Democrats want a third district that would be anchored in Dallas and give Hispanic residents the chance to elect their chosen candidate.
There are 2.3 million minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including 1.3 Hispanic residents.
“It is clearly possible to draw an effective Latino district in North Texas,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.
Plans put forward by Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis and Rafael Anchia, both of Dallas, would create three minority districts, including a new Hispanic district either wholly or mostly in Dallas.
Others testified that changing interim maps, drawn by a federal court, was a waste of time and taxpayer money.
“People need to be conservative with money,” said Dallas Republican Adryana Boyne. “The judges in San Antonio drew a good map. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”
Republicans, in firm control of the Legislature, want to endorse the boundaries. Democrats contend that even though they were drawn by federal judges, they share some of the same discriminatory features of the maps the Legislature tried to pass.
Republicans have the votes to approve the interim maps, and Perry is expected to sign a bill into law. But Democrats are using the hearings to set the stage for legal challenges.
The strategy led to contentious exchanges at Thursday’s meeting at DART headquarters. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert took exception to questions by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
Emmert contends that Republicans and many activists opposed to the Legislature’s original plan agreed to the interim boundaries. Fischer asked Emmert to name the parties that agreed with the interim plan and Emmert refused.
None of this is likely to change anyone’s minds, certainly not anyone who attended this hearing or any of the others, and while it’s possible that the interim maps could be modified by the Lege when and if it gets around to doing something, this is all really for the benefit of the judges in San Antonio. Everyone involved has a to do list, and the boxes are being checked.
Texas Redistricting also reported from Dallas.
The most frequent complaint from witnesses was about the absence of a Hispanic opportunity congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to complement the African-American ability-to-elect districts currently represented by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.
Several witnesses noted the the DFW Metroplex closely paralleled the demographics and population size of Harris County, which supported two African-American and one Hispanic ability-to-elect districts, but said that under the interim maps, currently only 2 of 9 districts in Dallas County qualified as ability-to-elect districts. Even with the addition of a Hispanic opportunity district, the witnesses told the committee only 3 of 9 districts would elect non-Anglo candidates of choice.
On the state house map, other witnesses also discussed what they said was the illogical fragmentation of Mesquite and Garland in eastern Dallas County.
State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) also asked questions of several witnesses about the possibility of an additional state house opportunity district in Tarrant County – which he said could support four such districts out of 11 current state house seats.
A number of witnesses also questioned why the Legislature was doing anything now, given the pendency of the Shelby Co. case – with one witness, who described himself as a political independent, telling the committee that they should tell Gov. Perry “to stick his call where the sun don’t shine,” and that by pushing through maps now the committee would only be causing rather than reducing litigation.
One answer to that question is that the two committees are attempting to do now what they were supposed to do in 2011, which is to involve and engage the public in this process and base the maps at least in part on the feedback they receive. The fact that the public, especially minority communities, were systematically excluded from the process in 2011 was a significant part of the litigation and of the DC court’s finding of discrimination. I’m sure that fact wasn’t lost on Sen. Kel Seliger and Rep. Drew Darby or the lawyers that they had advising their committees, even if it didn’t ever seem to occur to Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.
The attorney general said the Legislature could cut away some of the tangled litigation that had the state defending its maps in separate federal courts in Washington and San Antonio. The special session would be over in seven to 10 days, lawmakers said.
Instead, it is like taking a shortcut through a swamp — the sort of well-intentioned romp that marks the beginning of so many classic horror movies. The legal and political monsters appeared right on cue, and what was supposed to be a quick march could become a hard slog.
Legislative leaders expanded the size of the committees considering the political maps, the better to include viewpoints from more of the state’s geographical and demographic groups.
When the San Antonio judges who drew the maps held a hearing last week to find out where things stood, they made it clear that their own interim maps would be subject to the same kind of review any other map might face. They drew them without public input and without intending them to be used more than once.
So now lawmakers are holding redistricting hearings in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Corpus Christi — in addition to Austin — giving the public a chance to talk about new maps. Some are starting to worry that the whole exercise could affect the timing of the 2014 elections. A couple of them have suggested holding even more hearings in more far-flung cities like Laredo and El Paso.
This is not the tidy little package promised by the state’s top lawyer.
Let’s be clear here: Greg Abbott doesn’t represent the interests of the state of Texas, he represents the interests of the Republican Party of Texas, which occasionally but do not as a rule align with the interests of the state as a whole. The idea of the quickie session to ratify the judge-drawn maps and thus fortify the defense of them was a piece of political strategy from the get go. Turns out political strategy and solid legal advice don’t always align, either. It would be funny if the Lege modifies the maps in a sincere (if likely half-hearted) attempt to address some of the issues raised by the DC court only to have the bills they pass vetoed by Perry. At this point, all I can say is that whatever Perry and Abbott thought they would get out of this special session on redistricting, they’re not going to get it. Greg, who will be attending and liveblogging the Houston hearings, has more.