Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Meet Mr. Gerry Mander

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM

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An overly GOP-friendly congressional map that cleared the Senate Monday and will likely sail through the House has Democrats and Hispanic groups seething, calling the new map a product of GOP gerrymandering that ignores the state’s Hispanic boom.

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In a heated debate on the Senate floor Monday, Democrats sparred with state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who authored the proposal. The new map, approved by the Senate along strict party lines, would likely keep Texas’ 23 GOP congressmen safe in their posts, while possibly squeezing out longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, by drawing him into a deep red district.

Seliger Monday insisted his plan would clear the courts.

In a statement Monday, Doggett claimed the new map violates the Voting Rights Act by failing to draw lines that account for the state’s booming Hispanic population over the past decade, the reason Texas picked up four new congressional seats. “This redistricting process has excluded Hispanics at every step in the process. This map violates the Voting Rights Act and represents little more than another Republican slap at Hispanics,” he said, insisting the map is “far from final and will likely look very different on Election Day."

On the senate floor Monday, state Sen. Carlos Uresti said Republicans typically score 55 percent of the vote in Texas, yet the new map is designed to give over 70 percent of the state’s seats to GOP congressman. “In what world would this be seen as proportional?” he said.

Luis Figueroa, a legislative attorney with MALDEF, called the new plan “retrogressive,” saying it ignores that Latinos accounted for 65 percent of the state’s population growth over the past decade and actually cuts away at existing Hispanic-majority districts. While the map creates a new Hispanic-majority district between San Antonio and Austin, it carves out heavy portions of Charlie Gonzalez’s District 20 so that it is no longer a Hispanic-majority district, Figueroa said.

“Everyone has been talking about the tremendous Latino growth, and yet it’s never reflected in the maps that come out,” Figueroa said. “We think that’s unfair, and we think the courts will agree.”

MALDEF had proposed a map that would draw Hispanic-majority districts in the Fort Worth and San Antonio-Austin areas, and the map also includes what Figueroa called a “coalition” district in the Houston area rich with minority voters.

Under the Voting Rights Act, the new map will have to go before the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court panel for review. Figueroa said he expects MALDEF and others will fight the new map in court.

- Michael Barajas, mbarajas@sacurrent.com

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