Davis declares victory in Texas redistricting conflict

Posted Thursday, May. 30, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, declared victory Thursday in a two-year legal battle over redistricting, saying state Republican leaders have agreeed to end their attempts to “dismantle” her Tarrant County senatorial district.

Testifying at a Senate hearing on redistricting, Davis said attorneys for the state have informed a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio that they will no longer seek changes in the District 10 boundaries under which Davis won elections in 2008 and 2012.

The outcome, Davis said, ends conflict that began in 2011 when the Republican-controlled Legislature, in drawing new congressional and legislative districts, sharply retooled State District 10 into a heavily Republican district.

Davis and the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) successfully challenged the Republican-drawn map during a wide-ranging and complex legal dispute that played out in federal courts in San Antonio and Washington.

The San Antonio court drew interim congressional and legislative maps to serve for the 2012 elections and returned District 10 to the contours that were in effect in 2008.

The interim maps are now at the center of a special legislative session that Gov. Rick Perry called Monday, just after the adjournment of the 140-day regular session, to deal with redistricting.

Perry wants lawmakers to formally ratify the interim maps drawn by the San Antonio court to strengthen the state’s hand legally as the case moves toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the inaugural hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, Davis joined other Democrats in opposing “rubber-stamping” the court-drawn interim congresional and state House maps. Elements of those plans, they said, discriminate against minorities by failing to recognize the explosive population growth of Hispanics and African Americans.

“In his call for a special session, Gov. Perry is insisting that Legislature adopt — without any changes — state House and congressional maps that include some of the features that a Washington, D.C., federal court has determined violate the U.S. Voting Rights Act,” Davis told the committee.

But in what she described as “very good news,” Davis said that attorneys for the state told the three-judge panel during a hearing on Wednesday that they will “no longer seek changes” in the boundaries of District 10.

“Yesterday was the first time I felt like I could confidentally declare victory,” she told the Star-Telegram. “The battle has concluded, and we’ve won.”

She said she and her attorneys are trying to determine the cost of the legal battle.

The state attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for elaboration on its position in the case.

Davis won election to the district in 2008 after defeating long-time incumbent Kim Brimer. Davis, a Fort Worth attorney and a former city council member, won re-election in 2012 against then-Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, overcoming a statewide Republican effort to defeat her.

She is seeking re-election in 2014 and has attracted two Republican opponents — Shelton, a Fort Worth pediatrician, and Konni Burton of Colleyville, a leader within the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party.

Davis and her supporters describe Senate District 10, in the southern half of Tarrant County, as a coalition district that is trending Democratic and has a growing minority population that constitutes the majority of voters.

Shelton and other Republicans say the district remains Republican and have depicted Davis as being out of step with her constituents.

In opening Thursday’s hearing, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the committee chairman, promised a “full, vigorous debate on the legislation” and an “open and transparent” process that will include additional hearings on June 6 and June 12.

The counterpart committee in the House has scheduled hearings for today and Saturday.

Seliger defended the proposed legislation ratifying the interim maps as “legally sufficient” but said he would invite amendments and maintain an “open-door” policy with advocates in the case.

Prospects that the special session might last only a few days diminished Thursday as Seliger predicted that the full Senate would not vote on a redistricting plan any earlier than June 14. The session may last up to 30 days, and Perry is being asked to add a number of issues in addition to redistricting.

Dave Montgomery, 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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