Do the right thing.
That was the message delivered Wednesday to Texas lawmakers from a number of North Texans who asked the Texas House Redistricting Committee — which held a legislative hearing Wednesday in Fort Worth — to stop dividing local communities of interest, primarily Hispanic and African-American populations.
“Respect our rights,” Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said during the hours-long hearing at Tarrant County College’s Trinity River Campus. “Respect the protections guaranteed.
“Texas citizens should not be forced into court to protect ourselves from actions by our elected state leadership.”
At a time when local minority populations are growing, Brooks and others said these populations shouldn’t be sliced up into different legislative and congressional districts to mute their impact as they have been in the past.
By law, state lawmakers must redraw boundaries for U.S. House and Texas House and Senate legislative districts every 10 years, based on new Census figures. The goal is to make sure all the districts are about the same size and maintain or boost minority percentages.
Texas lawmakers will redraw maps in 2021. But they won’t get updated 2020 Census data until the 2021 legislative session is well underway, so they are trying to get out in front of the issue now.
They are holding public hearings across the state, such as the one Wednesday in Fort Worth, to learn what residents would like to see done — or changed — in the new maps.
“The voters ... are sick and tired of partisanship,” said Mark Greene of Fort Worth. “We are tired of your partisanship. We want our government back.”
Communities of interest
Earlier this year, lawmakers had to amend boundary lines around House District 90, represented by Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth. This district had been cited for deliberate discrimination, due to the lines lawmakers redrew in 2013, by lawmakers when the U.S. Supreme Court approved redistricting maps in Texas. Judges said race was wrongly used as a key factor.
State Rep. Phil King, the Weatherford Republican who heads the Redistricting Committee, told the crowd that redistricting can become “complex and difficult” trying to balance all the needs and desires.
Dozens of residents spoke to the committee about concerns, some suggesting that a nonpartisan redistricting committee be appointed to draw the maps. Others noted that lawmakers were elected to do that job.
The overall sentiment was that residents want fair and impartial districts.
Many called for Hispanic and African-American voices to not be diluted through this process.
“I have seen a lot,” said Fernando Florez of Fort Worth, who has been involved in redistricting at the local level for several decades. “What I’ve noticed is that it has been partisan, very controversial, hostile.
“Redistricting is an integral part of our voting process and our democracy,” he said. “I think it’s time for Texas … to follow the example of several other states.”
Bruce Miller also urged lawmakers to not dilute the voices of Jewish communities locally and across the state.
“Texans have to learn that there is more to life than football,” he told lawmakers. “If we want our state to move ahead, …. Texas politics has to change. ... We have to look ahead and choose a better approach.”
As the number of residents in Texas continues to grow, the state could pick up as many as three new congressional seats, projections show.
In Tarrant County, the population is projected to grow from 1.8 million in 2010 to 2.1 million in 2020, Texas state demographer Lloyd Potter told lawmakers Wednesday.
Hispanics saw the most growth, with 42.5 percent, followed by African-Americans, with a 26.4 percent increase; Caucasians, with a 13.1 percent growth; and Asians, with a 12.9 percent growth. The category of “other” saw a 5.1 percent growth, according to data presented at Wednesday’s committee hearing.
“Once again, we come before each of you asking for a fair and open process,” said Jesse Gaines, a representative of the Fort Worth Tarrant County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch. “I ask each of you to stand on the right side of history.”