Texas Governor Rick Perry called a special legislative session at the end of May to adopt the interim redistricting maps ordered by a San Antonio federal court for the Texas legislature and Congress. The special session lasts for 30 days, and so is about half over without any definitive outcome.
The issue with these maps is that they are currently being considered in the court system and are contentious over whether they proportionately represent Latinos, who accounted for over 70% of Texas' growth during the last decade.
“Despite the fact that the San Antonio federal district court clearly regarded this maps as only interim in nature, the Governor saw it fit to call a special session for an up or down vote on these maps, rather than allow the courts to make a final ruling on the claims by the plaintiffs or allow the Legislature to negotiate in good-faith with minority members,” said State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, Chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in Texas.
And, he added, the District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Texas Legislature intentionally discriminated against Latino and minority voters during the 2011 legislative session while crafting the maps.
Many in Texas believe this is Perry's and the Republican Party's move to co-opt Texas' legislature and congressional districts as the state's demographics change. Additionally, Since Perry's move to examine redistricting, several Texas legislators, mostly Democrats representing minority districts, have filed their own alternate plans:
- State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio – D
- Senator Royce West of Dallas – D
- State Rep. Yvonne Davis of Dallas – D
- Senator Kirk Watson of Austin – D
- Senator Sylvia Garcia of Houston – D
- Senator Carlos Uresti of San Antonio – D
What's more, Congressmen Pete Gallego and Filemon Vela filed papers with the San Antonio federal court, asking permission to intervene in the case to protect residents in the districts, as well as minority voters in Texas.
“There was a deliberate attempt to minimize the voting rights of Latinos in the 23rd district. Their intent – which was made public in emails – was to make the 23rd district a Latino district in-name-only; they swapped Latinos who vote at a higher frequency with those who vote at a lower frequency,” said Gallego's Spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña.
“Their main objective was to limit Latino voting strength. The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. The process shouldn't shut out entire communities.”
Some political watchers in Texas worry that this move on Perry's part could hurt Latino voters in two ways: one, preventing them from electing a candidate of their choice, and two, misrepresenting Texas' Latino population growth.
“The current special session is the Republican attempt to prevent Latinos from getting the representation they deserve,” said Democratic political consultant Anthony Gutierrez.
“Republicans began this process by drawing districts that bore no resemblance whatsoever to Texas' actual population growth. The courts remedied the maps to an extent but minorities, specifically Latinos, still don't have the political voice they deserve,” he said.
Martinez Fischer told Politic365 that he believes more Texas House districts are needed in order to adequately address Latino population growth in the state. The people of Texas have expressed in field hearings around the state the desire to see Latino, black and Asian communities represented in redistricting, he said, adding that a special session is a tight time frame to discuss such a complex issue, but, “we hope that the Legislature will join us to give all Texans the representation they deserve.”
Ultimately, whether or not the maps are approved will have a huge impact on the future of Texas politics, seeing as that it's largely believed that Latinos' voting power was not maximized in the maps in question. Gutierrez, the Democratic political consultant, made an even grander point, noting that the maps will affect the destiny of the Republican party moving forward in the State of Texas.
“This process will reveal a lot about the Hispanic outreach Republicans keep talking about,” he told Politic365. “Will candidates like George P. Bush stand up to their party and fight for the protections Latinos have under the Voting Rights Act, or will they continue to be accomplices in the Republican attempt to silence Latinos' political voice?”