Burnt Orange Report is excited to bring you this guest post by James Aldrete about the redistricting process and problems with the Texas House of Representatives map. If you're not familiar with James, he is a leading political consultant in Texas and nationwide who has worked on many winning campaigns, and is also a long-time friend of BOR. Thanks for providing your thoughts on redistricting litigation, James!
Redistricting Challenges in the Texas House
By James Aldrete
People of all political stripes keep asking, when will this end? Trey Martinez Fischer and the team at MALC deserve a lot of credit for their answer: we keep fighting until the voting rights of every Texan are protected. The redistricting process presents many challenges for plaintiff attorneys seeking to protect the voting rights of minority citizens, epecially in Texas where an Anglo super-majority in the legislature has attempted to roll back the number of minority controlled seats even in the face of explosive minority population growth.
The State gains a tactical advantage when much of the energy of a trial is devoted to proving up and restoring the existing majority minority seats the state is attempting to take away (Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act). Additionally, much attention is focused on a few areas providing the opportunity to create new Hispanic majority seats. This occurs where a super concentration of Hispanic population has emerged in the census (Section 2 of the VRA).
What is in danger of being lost in this process, especially in the one hundred and fifty member State House, are the rights of minority voters who are more diffused in the urban and suburban population in Texas yet who have been able to successfully engage in coalitions to elect the candidates of their choice. Latinos are no longer confined to the barrio. Census data shows second and third generation families to be highly mobile, moving to neighborhoods where safe housing is affordable and schools are strong.
Read the rest of the essay below the jump.
Map of Dallas County passed by Texas Legislature. Click here for a larger version.
Fortunately, Federal Judges in Washington D.C. and San Antonio seem to understand and appreciate the rights of these voters as they have examined the claims in Congressional redistricting regarding the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The metropolitan areas of Houston and D/FW each have approximately the same size populations of people of color, but Houston has three minority controlled districts while minority voters in D/FW have only one. The evidence is clear that this odd situation is the result of the systematic fragmentation of pockets of minority population into many districts, leaving them a voice in none.
Similarly, in the Texas Senate, these same judges seem to recognize that when minority citizens rise to elect the candidate of their choice, as they did in SD 10, they have the right to not have their voices and their votes silenced by intentional fragmentation.
The last decade began with minority population carefully fragmented (where it could not be over concentrated and packed) in Dallas, Harris and Tarrant counties. However, the demographic change over the decade was very dramatic in urban Texas. In 2004 and especially 2006 and 2008 minority voters began to elect their candidates of choice in many urban districts even in the face of heavily racially polarized voting. These results were evident in the 2009 legislative session where many votes were close and controversial measures like voter ID were delayed and ultimately defeated. The 2010 election, in a national tidal wave saw the defeat of many of these minority candidates of choice (and the 2011 session was very different); but minority citizens had made their mark in these benchmark districts. They had established the fact that they could engage effectively in coalitions and win.
The Anglo super-majority re-fragmented these voters when they got the chance. Now it is up to the courts to see if they can get by with it. Below is a recap of only some of the districts where minority voters effectively asserted themselves; and some where they merely threatened to:
HD 93 covers parts of Arlington and Grand Prairie and by decade's end only 38% of the voting age population (VAP) was Anglo. Minority voters successfully elected their candidate of choice, Paula Pierson, in 2006 and 2008. Obama, Noriega, White and others easily carried the district.
HD 96 is in south Fort Worth and Arlington in areas of rapidly growing minority communities. The same circumstances apply here as in SD 10. The minority population had not risen to majority status, but engaged in a coalition to elect their candidate of choice, Chris Turner, in the 2008 election. Most of this district overlaps with SD 10 and many of the same minority voters were decisive in both districts. In 2010 Turner lost after a racially polarizing campaign that included an allegedly darkened photo which made him appear somewhat African-American.
HD 101 has contained virtually the entire city of Mesquite, in Dallas County, since single member districts were ordered in the 1970s. However, over this last decade, minorities became the majority of the population in Mesquite and in HD 101. So guess what happened; Mesquite got split. Minority voters in HD 101 had elected their candidate of choice, Robert Miklos, in 2008 and saw the district carried by Obama, Noriega, White and other minority candidates of choice. But, no more effective voice for them; Mesquite is now in multiple districts. The district number was moved to another county.
HD 102 in Dallas and Garland grew to have a majority of people of color and elected the minority candidate of choice in 2008, Carol Kent. Obama also carried the district. 2010 was another setback for minority voters and the Ledge took the district apart.
HD 105 in Irving saw its Anglo VAP drop to 36%. The population of “Other” VAP grew to 18.5%. Obama carried the district, Noriega tied and the underfunded candidate of choice for State Rep. lost by 19 votes in a recount.
HD 106 in Grand Prairie also saw Anglo VAP drop to 36%. The minority candidate of choice, Kirk
England, carried the district, as did Obama, Noriega, White and others. This district number was moved to another county and bizarre hooks and fingers fragmented or packed the voters.
HD 107 in Dallas did not see a minority majority emerge, but as in SD 10, minority voters grew to be decisive in electing their candidate of choice, Allen Vaught, in 2006 and 2008.
HD 133 in southwest Harris County ended the decade with 30% Anglo VAP. Minority voters elected their candidate of choice in 2008, Kristi Thibaut. Obama and Noriega won and White virtually tied.
HD 132 in western Harris County almost doubled in size over the decade. Most of that growth being from people of color, the Anglo majority faded. This population had to be split three ways with Anglos added from another direction to prevent the emergence of an effective minority majority.
HD 26 in Fort Bend County had a population of “Other” VAP of 33%. Hubert Vo was elected in HD 149 with an Other VAP of 21%. Why were the Fort Bend Asians then fragmented into four districts? why did they cut VTD lines to just remove Asians?
HD 54 in Bell County has seen minority voters in Killeen smothered by rural Anglo voters in Burnet and Lampasas Counties. When the county configuration had to lose Burnet County, minority citizens in Killeen were cut out of the district and Anglos were added from Salado. These are military families in Killeen. They fight and die for our country, but the State of Texas does not want them to dominate a legislative district.
The fragmentation of minority voters infected the entire redistricting process. These examples were some of the most serious examples provided to the court. Collin, Denton, McLennan and Williamson Counties saw the same cracking where they had emerging minority populations in districts.
There are many facts and patterns to follow in state house redistricting; but they all lead down the same trail.