Redistricting battle heats up; Latino leaders voice opposition
HOUSTON With the population of the city of Houston booming, the city was forced to add two new districts -- one west of downtown and one in southwest Houston. The proposed changes add those two new council seats, but how these lines are drawn is the source of much debate -- especially among the Hispanic community. In her Heights home, Houston resident Carla Garcia admits having Latino representation on City Council is important. "It is important because they know where we come from, and how we feel. It's just important because our community is growing so fast," said Garcia. But if the current proposed redistricting map goes through, Garcia will be in the new District J -- a district most likely to elect an Anglo council member. It is one of the main reasons why a coalition of Hispanic leaders raised their voices at City Hall today. "The Hispanic community is responsible for the overwhelming majority of this population growth; however the map as it is proposed would make it nearly impossible for an Hispanic to win in either of the two new districts," said Rey Guerra, of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition. Mayor Annise Parker says she's open to suggestions. But says it's difficult to draw districts that will guarantee the election of a Latino when the Hispanic turnout is historically low. "The problem is that the Latino population in Houston is 44 percent of the population and 16 percent of the vote," Mayor Parker said. Our political analyst says even though it may be difficult to draw a Latino district, it's certainly possible. "You could draw a map that is more favorable for Hispanics than the map by the city. There is some improvement possible based on that perspective," said KTRK Political Analyst Dr. Richard Murray. Public hearing held today The City Council Wednesday opened up the floor to hear your opinion on the proposals to change some council districts and voting lines. Last week, Mayor Annise Parker presented her version of the redistricting map that would add two new City Council seats. The mayor unveiled her plan for a new district "J" earlier this month. It merges a larger portion of Montrose with the Heights. At least two council members are concerned the plan does not create a new Hispanic district. Today city leaders, primarily from the Latino community, gathered at the steps of City Hall to say that version of the map has them worried. They say the reason they are so concerned is that the proposed redistricting does not reflect the major growth in the city which has been from the Hispanic community. They say it doesn't give Latinos a realistic chance to win at least one of those seats. Elected leaders also admit the challenge of getting members of the Hispanic community who don't vote to become more involved in the process. "You have to start drawing the lines first of all and making sure that there are districts for folks to run in too," said City Council Member James Rodriguez. "And it's incumbent upon all of us elected officials, folks in the community to get our numbers up, to turn out the vote and to get people excited about voting." Members of the Latino community say they need to recruit better candidates and get more of their community to show up at the polls, but they say first and foremost, the redistricting lines must be drawn correctly. Two more hearings will be held next week before council votes on the redistricting lines.