Racist Redistricting Goes Local: Voters Take on New Jim Crow

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Five Latino voters are taking the City of Pasadena to court. They are challenging newly-drawn maps for City Council, which is moving from an 8-1 geographic map to a 6-2 system, with six geographic districts and two at large districts in addition to the mayor.

This comes at a time when Latinos in Pasadena have grown to be sixty percent of the population and over forty percent of the eligible voters in the city. There was even a Latino candidate for mayor in the last municipal election, though he failed to unseat incumbent Mayor Isbell. And this is an important part of the story, according to both the lawsuit and coverage by local news sources. The evidence is pretty near damning.

Following the Supreme Court decision that invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, the mayor of Pasadena convened a committee to discuss a potential bond election, according to the lawsuit’s statement of facts. The members of this committee were appointed by the mayor, and on the third meeting, the mayor brought something new up for consideration by the committee: city council redistricting. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision, the mayor explained at the meeting, they City of Pasadena would not have to submit its new city council plan for federal review.

Though the committee declined to recommend this change to the charter, the mayor pushed the sitting City Council to put it up for a vote in a special election in November of 2013. In August, a mere four months before the special election would be held, the City Council voted in a 4-4 split to place the charter amendment on the ballot. The vote was split evenly between those who represented majority Latino districts and those who did not, and the mayor, who had just that May been challenged by a Latino opponent, cast the deciding vote to place it on the ballot.

Council members began the redistricting process in 2014. The mayor expressed his clear interest in a map called Plan 2, but this map drew concerns about racial disenfranchisement and illegality from citizens and council members alike. When one City Council person, Pat Van Houte, went over her allotted time stating her concerns with the proposal, the mayor had armed police officers escort her out of the chambers. The three other members representing Latino majority districts left in protest, and the remaining council members joined the mayor to pass Plan 2 unanimously. When put before the voters in Pasadena in November of 2013, it passed by only 79 votes.

Those opposed to Plan 2 did so because it dilutes representation of Latino voters in their local government. Under the 8-1 system after the growth in the Latino voting age population in Pasadena, four of the eight districts were majority Latino voters. Under the new system, only three of the six geographically drawn districts represent majority Latino voters, with three additional at large seats (including the mayor).

Before the redistricting, the lawsuit claims, Latino voters in Pasadena represented a large enough cohesive majority in four of the eight voting districts to elect Latino representatives to half of the City Council.

Those represented in the suit are explicit about their complaints. Albert Patino, a lead plaintiff, explained:

    I’ve lived in Pasadena for 41 years. Hispanics are the majority of the population in the city, and it has been growing for a long time. As the majority, we need to have more representation on City Council. I just don’t think it’s fair that our voices have been taken away.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Patricia Gonzales, adds:

    I feel like my rights are being violated.I don’t think it’s right, not only for myself, but for Latino voters in the city of Pasadena. The Hispanic population is growing in my city, and it doesn’t make sense to take away our representation.

The timeline leading up to the City Council’s new plan reads like a story that ought to be relegated to our past: white representatives, afraid of the influence of a growing minority population, hastily ram through a charter amendment with only four months to go before the special election. And, when the maps are up to debate, council members are silenced with the use of armed police officers in the interest of maintaining the status quo. This is the political reality for Latino voters in today’s Pasadena, Texas.

MALDEF is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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About Author

Genevieve Cato

Genevieve Cato is a feminist activist and a native Texan. While not writing for the Burnt Orange Report, she can be found working for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, serving as a community member of the Communications Committee for the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, and drinking copious amounts of pretentious local craft beers.

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