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Hispanics at Heart of Redistricting Debate

Expect just about every redistricting decision made this year to center on the state's rapidly growing Hispanic population. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports on how the search for Hispanic-majority districts could affect the re-election chances of some lawmakers.

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Efforts to redraw the Texas congressional map have begun in earnest, and the rapid increase in the Hispanic population will be at the heart of just about every redistricting decision made this year. The search for Hispanic-majority districts could also affect the re-election chances of some lawmakers. 

State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said he hasn't drawn a map yet, but his committee has started hearing how the state would add four new congressional seats, which Texas gained in its 2010 census allotment.

Two such proposals have come from the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, a coalition of advocacy groups. "Both of the plans which you see here today contain nine Latino majority districts for Texas,” said Nina Perales with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “We believe that all of these districts are required by the federal Voting Rights Act to prevent dilution of Latino voting strength."

That includes one new congressional district in South Texas and another in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

One of the proposals also included a major redesign of the district currently held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The plan "unites the substantial Latino populations of south San Antonio and southeast Austin, along with the communities that are along the I-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin,” Perales said. That change could make it harder for Doggett to win re-election, but it would also be hard for a Republican to win — and friendlier to a Hispanic Democrat.

Perales said the point of the redesign isn't to elect a particular person or race but to give Hispanics the chance to make that final decision of who will win. 

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, would like to see changes made, but she favors a design that includes the city's core plus East Austin. She expects such a district would be friendly to Doggett but said that's not really the point. "If we discuss this district not as an individual to whom you know its heir apparent to belong, but as a community of interest, our arguments become stronger,” Dukes said.

In other words, show the importance of keeping a community together as opposed to keeping a member of Congress in office.

Democrats say Austin was ripped apart during the 2003 redistricting.The county was divided into three different districts with one running to Houston, one to San Antonio and one reaching all the way to the Mexican border. Does Dukes expect this round of redistricting to go better than 2003? 

"Well, when you have no place else to go but from bad, you might as well have hope that we'll get to something better,” Dukes said.

The dramatic increase in the state's Hispanic population could temper any blatant partisan politics this time around. Senate Redistricting Chair, Amarillo Republican State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said that so far, none of the congressional maps he's drawn give all four new districts to Republicans.

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