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Senate Backs Interim Maps Over Democrats' Objections

Though Senate Democrats argued that their objections and the testimony from public hearings were being ignored, the Texas Senate approved redistricting maps Friday.

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The Texas Senate voted to ratify court-drawn political maps that were used for legislative and congressional races in 2012. The bills now head to the House.

In party-line votes, Senators voted 16-11 to approve the interim maps for congressional and state House districts. The map of the state’s 31 Senate districts passed with unanimous consent.

Senate Redistricting Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, defended the maps against criticism and questions from Senate Democrats.

“As I’ve said before, I believe this map is fair and legal,” Seliger said on the Senate floor, referring to the congressional map.

The three maps were drawn by federal judges in San Antonio for one-time use in the 2012 elections while litigation regarding the maps approved by the Legislature in 2011 was being sorted out in the courts. Gov. Rick Perry called a special session late last month, saying the Legislature should approve the interim maps with no changes.

But after several hearings from around the state on the pros and cons of the court-drawn lines, Senate Democrats questioned why Seliger was blocking efforts to change the congressional and House district maps. State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said members of the redistricting committee had privately told her that Seliger had refused to consider any changes to the maps. 

Seliger said no redistricting map is going to please everybody.

Near the end of a lengthy back and forth, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, accused Seliger of admitting to refuse to consider input from critics of the maps.

“That may be what you thought you heard me say but it may not be what I thought I said for you to hear me say,” Seliger said.

In deflecting some questions, Seliger repeatedly noted that he is not an attorney.  At one point, in debate with Garcia about the language of a court ruling related to the interim maps, Seliger said, “You read this in a different context than I do since you’re an attorney.”

Garcia, smiling, responded, “I thought it was because I was a Latina.”

There was virtually no debate on the Senate lines. The only sticking point in that map has been Senate District 10, currently held by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. The interim map maintains Davis’ district as it was when she was first elected to the Senate in 2008, and all of the parties in the state's redistricting litigation have told the federal courts they have no objections to the Senate plan.

“There is broad agreement among all groups that this map is fair and legal when it comes to Senate District 10,” Davis said before the Senate voted unanimously

The striking difference in sentiment toward the Senate district map compared to the other two maps was brought in clear relief by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who offered an identical amendment on all three maps to remove language stating that each map complied with the Voting Rights Act. Senators unanimously agreed to the amendment on the bill for the Senate district map.

When Zaffirini offered the amendment on the congressional map, Seliger argued against it.

“This amendment is different because it takes on a different context in this matter,” Seliger said. The amendment didn’t make it on to the congressional or House district maps.

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Politics State government 83rd Legislative Session Redistricting Texas Legislature