Lawmakers reject changes to political districts


After holding hearings across the state, Republican Sen. Kel Seliger, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, opposed four amendments offered by Democrats who said their maps would better protect minority voting rights. Democrats also tried to remove language that would declare the temporary maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio constitutional.

The maps now go to the full, Republican-controlled Senate for a vote, and if adopted, minority groups have promised to fight them in court. Since 1974, every attempt by the Legislature to redraw political districts has led to protracted civil rights lawsuits, and the 2011 redistricting process is no exception.

A federal district court in Washington has declared that the original maps drawn in 2011, by the Republican majority in the Legislature, intentionally discriminated against minorities. Because of that ruling, Gov. Rick Perry has called the Legislature into special session to adopt temporary maps drawn by three federal judges in San Antonio as a stop-gap measure until the Washington court could reach its decision.

Minority groups, who filed a separate lawsuit in San Antonio, argue that because the Washington court found intentional discrimination, Texas' congressional and state House maps need to be completely redrawn. They have reached a settlement on the state Senate maps.

"The interim maps would have looked much different if the San Antonio court had not been constrained by time and had additional information," said Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, when he offered up a complete revision of the maps. He said the districts in his maps would solve all of the state's constitutional and legal problems.

Seliger objected to Uresti's proposal.

"Because it's a complete redraw in areas where there was no assertions of (wrongdoing by) a court I am aware of, it gives the impression it is redrawn for partisan purposes," Seliger said of Uresti's maps.

In dispute is how to make sure minorities, who make up almost 90 percent of Texas' population growth since 2000, get the chance to elect people who represent their views in Austin and Washington. Republican lawmakers control the Legislature, and are allowed to draw maps to benefit their party, but the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act prohibits them from drawing maps that diminish the voting power of minorities.

Texas gained four seats in Congress because of the state's rapid growth, but the current maps make only two of the new districts majority-minority. Civil rights groups also complain that at least seven more seats in the state House should be chosen by minority voters. All of the new minority districts created by the court in 2012 elected Democrats.

The San Antonio court is currently considering redrawing the state's political maps again for the 2014 election based on the Washington court's findings, and Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked Republicans to adopt the temporary maps to stop that process that would likely cost Republican seats. Republicans argue that the interim maps are constitutional and therefore acceptable.

Seliger also found fault with maps drawn by Senators Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, which would have created a new majority-Hispanic congressional district.

The House Redistricting Committee, meanwhile, met in Houston on Wednesday to hear testimony on the political maps. Hispanic groups there want to see the maps redrawn to create an additional Hispanic-majority congressional district.

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