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Simpson Joins Criticism of House Redistricting

One of the House's most conservative members said Friday he is "pretty dismayed" about redistricting conversations revealed in a stern letter to House Speaker Joe Straus from a top Democratic legislator.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, delivers a personal privilege speech at the end of the House session on June 29, 2011.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer picked up an unlikely ally Friday after accusing top House staffers of taking part in discriminatory conduct that got the Legislature’s redistricting maps thrown out by federal judges.

Fellow Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, said he, too, “was pretty dismayed” to see testimony about redistricting conversations between the House speaker’s staff and outside attorneys.

Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, is the head of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. Simpson, elected to the House in 2010, is one of the House’s most conservative members.

Federal judges refused to give preclearance to political maps drawn by the Legislature, saying the state didn’t prove it had protected the rights of minority voters or that the maps didn’t intentionally discriminate. Martinez Fischer, in a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, this week, said Straus’ top aides were involved in the discriminatory conduct that got the Texas redistricting maps thrown out. He cited testimony about conversations between Straus aides and an outside attorney who was preparing a lawsuit seeking to keep noncitizens from being counted as residents for purposes of redistricting. The state didn’t join the lawsuit, and the noncitizens were included in the numbers after all.

But the court found evidence of intentional discrimination, and the Democratic leader called attention to it by writing the letter to Straus and copying the other members of the House.

“I was pretty dismayed with what the court documents show,” Simpson said Friday. “You expect to have winners and losers in a political fight, but you expect it to be done in the proper way.”

He said he supports Attorney General Greg Abbott’s efforts to have the maps approved for use, but isn’t happy about the way they were drawn. “We seek to do unto them as we think they have done unto us,” he said of legislative Democrats who were overwhelmed by a 2-to-1 Republican majority last session. “We had 101 members and we acted like it. But we ought to take the high road.”

A spokeswoman for Straus said in response to Martinez Fischer’s letter that they’re sticking with the work done during the legislative session. "Last year, after members provided input and direction, the Texas House fulfilled its duty in passing new maps that reflect the population changes of the state," Erin Daly said in that statement. "The House will continue to rely on Attorney General Abbott for legal advice and guidance, as it has throughout this litigation."

Simpson ultimately voted for the maps. Martinez Fischer didn’t, and believes the maps should be permanently tossed, contending they didn’t take the minority growth in the population into account and didn’t protect minority voters who had been protected in previous maps. “The issue is much deeper than just the drawing of the maps,” he said. “This was a Republican administration that wanted not to recognize almost 90 percent of the population growth over the last decade.”

Both are taking the opportunity to raise questions about the people in charge. Both have been critical of Straus in the past, and the documents attached to Martinez Fischer’s letter provide fresh fuel for his detractors.

“Even if it passed the legal test, it didn’t pass the moral test,” Simpson said. “We have to do the right thing, and we have to do it in the right way.” 

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