Guest Column: Don't Mess With My District!

Perhaps it’s irresistible for the media to cover redistricting like a sporting event, focusing on which “team” — Democrat or Republican — is winning, or which “players” — elected officials — get injured or knocked out of the game. This "who’s ahead" and "who’s hurt" approach, though it often dominates public conversation, badly serves the public interest. That’s why it’s frustrating when the conversation shifts to “who” is a potential "target."

At its core, redistricting is not about me or my party affiliation. It's about the people and the communities of Senate District 10.

Partisan redistricting aimed to protect or harm politicians, rather than protecting communities of interest, only hurts the voters and their ability to participate in the political process when those communities get ripped apart. I fear that the upcoming redistricting will slice and dice the areas of Tarrant County that I currently represent, which include most of the city of Fort Worth, much of Arlington and the surrounding areas. 

Why dissect Tarrant County? Apparently for the sole reason of shoring up the strong majority that Republicans already hold in the Texas Senate. Whatever nominal help this political gamesmanship may give Republicans would be more than offset by the damage done to those citizens in SD-10.

For generations, Fort Worth has been the anchor of a Texas Senate district. Fort Worth is the fifth-largest city in Texas and 17th-largest in the nation; Tarrant is the third-most-populous county in Texas. SD-10 is the only Senate seat in North Texas entirely contained within Tarrant County and the only district with its voting base rooted in Fort Worth and Arlington. 

Whether fighting for highway construction, air quality, local jobs or hospitals, my first duty is to my constituents in Tarrant County — not Denton, Parker or Johnson counties. No other Texas senator is charged with looking out for Tarrant County as his or her sole obligation.

If SD-10 is dismantled to guarantee the election of a Republican, that new Republican will be obligated to voters who live in distant suburbs or in other counties with distinctly different interests. The result: Fort Worth, Arlington and the core neighborhoods in Tarrant County will lose their voice in the Senate. Indeed, it is not at all unlikely that they would be represented by Senators from Denton, Parker and Johnson counties, disparately spread in both geography and interests.

The dissection of SD-10’s cohesive urban community would not serve it well. Fort Worth and Arlington are among the most ethnically diverse cities in Texas, with large, established and growing Hispanic and African-American communities. Anglos now make up less than half of the population in the district. In 2008, African-Americans and Hispanics formed a strong voting coalition, and I was honored to become their candidate of choice. Today, I feel a moral obligation to fight any partisan efforts to undermine that voice. Most importantly, the federal Voting Rights Act protects minority voting strength in SD-10. If a partisan redistricting process tears apart the minority communities and destroys their opportunity to elect a candidate of choice, it will violate the law.

Back in 2001, when the state of Texas created current SD-10 and submitted its plan to the Department of Justice for approval, it was expressly stated that it would evolve into an "effective minority district." To intentionally destroy the minority voting coalition district the state predicted 10 years ago would draw an objection from the Department of Justice and invite a legal battle that serves no good purpose for any Texan. 

Just a few weeks ago, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that the new districts should reflect recent voting behavior of Texans. That’s a fair and logical path. Democrats now hold only 12 of the 31 Senate districts while Republicans hold 19, which is about 61 percent. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry received a little less than 55 percent of the statewide vote. In 2008, John McCain received just over 55 percent. Using Dewhurst’s logic, maintaining the current makeup is more than fair to Republicans. Dropping below 12 seats would undermine the recent will of Texas voters.

Ultimately, redistricting is not a game to entertain political pundits and observers. It involves real people, real lives and the ability of ethnically diverse cities like Fort Worth and Arlington to be represented fairly and effectively in our Capitol. I will gladly and proudly fight to protect the rights of the people of SD-10 and their continued ability to exercise a cohesive, identifiable voice.

Wendy Davis is first-term Democratic senator from Fort Worth.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.