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Political Districts Expose Split in Minority Ranks

New congressional maps reveal splits between lawyers for minority groups over districts in the Metroplex and in the Hill Country.

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This is a squeeze play.

The state’s Hispanic population is blooming, and its black population grew faster than its Anglo population. But Anglos still dominate the political maps, and Latinos dominate the part of the political maps controlled by minorities.

When the Legislature drew political lines, minority groups were in widespread agreement that the maps didn’t reflect the growth — there were not enough seats where minority voters had the ability to decide elections

Texas outgrew the other states in the country, so much so that it added four seats to the 32 already in its congressional delegation.

Minority groups argued that growth in minority populations accounted for 89 percent of the state’s growth between 2000 and 2010, and that should be the starting place for how the new seats were divvied up.

But when three federal judges in San Antonio unveiled their congressional map late last month, two of the four new seats had Latino majorities and two had Anglo majorities.

And before the court revealed its plans, the groups suing over the maps had split. The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, a coalition that includes the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, among others, cut a deal with Attorney General Greg Abbott. Other plaintiffs, including the Texas NAACP and the two biggest minority group caucuses in the Legislature, didn’t join.

One disagreement was over how to draw a new congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. What came out is clearly a minority district, almost evenly split in population between Dallas and Tarrant counties. But Hispanics dominate, and some black lawmakers and lawyers say black voters were pushed into other neighboring districts to make sure Congressional District 33 would be a Latino seat. Whatever the motives, what came out is a district where 61.3 percent of the voting-age population is Hispanic, 17.8 percent is black and 18.4 percent is Anglo.

It’s clearly Democratic turf, so the competition is in May instead of November. Domingo Garcia of Dallas, a former state representative who was also part of the Latino redistricting task force, has declared his candidacy, as has Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, who had criticized the Legislature’s proposed maps for fracturing black communities in Tarrant County.

The cracks were also evident in Travis County, which has been carved so that it makes up less than half of the population in each of five different congressional districts. The task force signed off on a map that put U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, in a district stretching from the southern edge of Fort Worth to Hays County, south of Austin. That’s more than 200 miles of Republican turf. He’ll run instead in a new Latino district that combines chunks of Austin and San Antonio and points in between.

The state’s lawyers say it’s just an unprotected Democratic district, and the lawyers for the task force agree with them. On the other side? A group including the Texas NAACP, the Legislative Black Caucus and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (which has several black members). State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, recently wrote that the interim plan “reduces the voting power of blacks,” eliminating a district “where blacks, voting in a coalition with Latino and white crossover voters were able to consistently elect their candidate of choice to Congress.”

That argument might have ended with the maps from the Texas court, but another skirmish could lie ahead. While the San Antonio judges were drawing interim maps, another panel of federal judges was looking at the maps approved last year by the Legislature and will determine whether lawmakers illegally diminished the voting clout of minorities in Texas.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that the Washington court could stop the Texas court’s redistricting plans, should it find a problem so severe that the judges decide it would be a mistake to continue with interim maps.

Their hearings are over, but this week the Washington court asked the lawyers on the task force for new briefs. It wants them to show their reasoning and their evidence behind their argument that CD-25 — the Doggett district — doesn’t deserve protection.

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