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Guest Column: Texas Should Leave Redistricting Alone

Republican leaders in Texas want the Legislature to take up redistricting this session. That's a bad idea, writes Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project.

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Redistricting fights are a lot like cicadas — they emerge every 10 years. They’re ugly and loud and get lots of attention. Then they go away.

Here in Texas, the redistricting fight is not going away.

Republican state and legislative leaders in Texas have taken redistricting far beyond a loud, ugly fight between Republicans and Democrats. They have turned it into an attack on racial fairness that involves the U.S. Department of Justice, two federal district courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eight months ago, a three-judge federal court — including two judges appointed by Republican presidents — said it straight up, unanimously ruling on the redistricting maps submitted by Attorney General Greg Abbott that were passed by the GOP-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.

The judges said that the Texas maps were designed to discriminate — that the maps showed “more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need to address here.”

Sadly, Texas is all alone — the only state in the country — that couldn’t pass the most basic legal test for fairness.

All of the other southern states covered under the Voting Rights Act — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia — were able to adopt district maps that did not discriminate against their minority citizens.

Rather than accept the ruling of the court and work to draw fair districts that reflect the racial makeup of Texas, Abbott, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have spent millions of Texas taxpayer dollars fighting to impose discriminatory boundaries on Texans.

Just last week, state Senate Republicans again demonstrated why Texans have no reason to trust the intentions of GOP leaders when it comes to fair district boundaries.

The senators gave barely 48 hours' notice for a public hearing on redistricting to consider maps they know members who represent Latino and African-American districts oppose. Of course, the leadership had no real interest in hearing from the public or giving anyone the chance to provide meaningful comment.

They simply intend to impose their will.

Even as the hearing proceeded, Abbott — on behalf of the state — has arguments pending in the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that the 2011 maps that the district court ruled discriminatory be imposed on Texas.

Going even further, Abbott is also arguing to repeal key provisions of the U.S. Voting Rights that protect against exactly the type of discrimination practiced by Texas GOP leaders.

Ultimately, it is almost certain that the courts will determine Texas district boundaries. Certainly, no one should expect a series of spirited redistricting debates in the Legislature with respectful back-and-forth negotiations and final agreement around maps that reflect fairness and common ground. GOP state leaders have shown no interest in that approach. Moreover, they have forfeited the basic trust such an approach requires.

The approach to redistricting chosen by those leaders exposes a dark and damning calculation. They have decided that as the Latino and African-American populations in our state grow, they would rather weaken and undermine minority voting strength than make fair and reasonable policy choices designed to win the support of Latino or African-American voters.

It's an approach that flies in the face of everything that so many Texans have fought and died for — the right to vote, the right to choose our own leaders, the right to be part of laying the course for our shared future.

As Texans we see ourselves — rightly — as forward-looking and fair. Our state leaders let all of us down when they design redistricting plans that aren’t remotely fair or equitable and that discriminate against our citizens.

Texas is a better place than this.

Texans are better people than this.

It’s time we acknowledged that this latest fight over the right to vote is not about politics or minorities at all.

It’s about morality.

Matt Angle is director of and a Democratic political consultant based in Washington, D.C.

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