Hearings on redistricting begin at 2 p.m. today in Dallas

Posted Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Lawmakers are expected to hear proposals for stronger minority representation, including the creation of a new Latino congressional district in the Metroplex, when they meet in Dallas today to begin a series of legislative field hearings on redistricting.

The afternoon hearing by the Select House Committee on Redistricting comes in week two of a special legislative session ordered by Gov. Rick Perry to permanently adopt interim legislative and congressional maps that a three-judge court in San Antonio put in place last year for the 2012 elections.

But the committee will also go beyond Perry’s order, considering Democratic-backed bills that would create new legislative and congressional districts designed to further address population growth among Hispanics and African-Americans in the past decade.

A bill by state Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, the Democratic leader in the state House, proposes a Hispanic-dominated district in western and central Dallas County, redrawing much of a current congressional district represented by incumbent Sam Johnson, R-Plano.

Davis’ plan would retain two congressional districts represented by African-American Democrats — Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas. But Veasey’s District 33, which now straddles Tarrant and Dallas counties, would be confined to Tarrant County to help accommodate the creation of the new Hispanic district.

The 25th Congressional District represented by new Republican Rep. Roger Williams, a Weatherford car dealer, would be transformed into a Democratic district centered in Travis and Hays counties in Central Texas. Currently, the multicounty district is strongly Republican and stretches from Austin to the southern tip of Tarrant County.

“This particular map is just one of many, and we’ll keep operating off of the interim map until we hear from the courts,” Williams’ office said in a statement.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is also proposing a Dallas-based Latino district to give the Metroplex a third minority district in addition to Veasey’s District 33 and Johnson’s District 30.

In talking points that Anchia is expected to deliver at the hearing, the Dallas lawmaker notes that there are 2.3 million African-Americans and Hispanics in Dallas and Tarrant counties, “clearly enough to support three minority opportunity districts” in the Metroplex.

Another plan written by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, would redraw state House districts to address what he says are retrogressive and discriminatory elements of the court-ordered interim plan.

Jane Hamilton, Veasey’s chief of staff, said Veasey “supports efforts” to preserve the two current African-American districts in addition to drawing a new Hispanic district.

“Rep. Rafael Anchia has offered a plan that achieves this goal, and Rep. Davis has made a good-faith effort to do so as well,” Hamilton said. “They both deserve support for their efforts to see citizens in North Texas are fairly represented in Congress.”

Perry ordered the special session at the request of Attorney General Greg Abbott to give the Legislature’s sanction to the court-ordered interim districts and to strengthen Abbott’s legal position in the likelihood of continued litigation over redistricting.

Although Perry’s mandate was initially interpreted as being confined to strictly endorsing the interim maps, the chairmen of the House and Senate redistricting committees have both said they would invite amendments and alternative plans.

“The calls directs the Legislature to consider redistricting, which is their constitutional obligation,” said Josh Havens, Perry’s spokesman. “That’s what Gov. Perry expects them to do.”

The House committee, headed by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, will meet at 2 p.m. at DART headquarters in Dallas. It will consider the chairman’s bills to preserve the interim districts as well as the alternative plans by Davis, Anchia and Coleman.

The House panel will also have a hearing Monday in San Antonio and Wednesday in Houston. The Senate Redistricting Committee, headed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, will convene a 9 a.m. hearing Thursday in Austin before traveling to Corpus Christi on Friday and Houston on Saturday.

The redistricting road trips abruptly ended speculation that the session would come to a quick end and put the rest of the Legislature on standby while the committees gather testimony and begin preparing legislation.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, the second highest-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership team, said the Dallas hearing’s 2 p.m. starting time — “in the middle of the work week” — could be daunting for potential witnesses.

“Hopefully some people will be able to attend and testify,” he said. “It’s very important that the committee be open-minded and willing to consider other alternatives beyond the interim congressional map and the House maps.”

The proposals by Davis and Anchia, he said, “clearly demonstrate that North Texas has the population to support two African-American opportunity districts and one Latino opportunity district.”

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, a conservative leader in the House, said he believes that most Republicans are embracing the interim maps.

“I think the consensus is that we first and foremost want to pass a legal map,” he said. “The maps that we have now were drawn by a court and that means they are a legal plan. I think most of us believe that the best thing we can do is just leave those maps in place until the next redistricting cycle in seven years.”

Sergio De Leon, Tarrant County justice of the peace for Precinct 5, said he hopes to attend the Dallas hearing after clearing his court docket. He said Perry is attempting to “freeze in place’’ the interim maps, which he described as an “unwarranted and inequitable” action that inadequately responds to Hispanic growth.

“At the end of the day what we all want are maps that are fair to all communities, especially the Latino community, which in my opinion has received the short end of the stick,” he said.

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