Latinos in Texas Dig In for Redistricting Battle

Texas saw explosive growth in the past decade, according to the 2010 census, 65 percent of it fueled by Latinos as part of a total of 90 percent growth fueled by minorities. That lead to the state receiving four new Congressional districts, which equals four additional seats in Congress. How those new districts were drawn by the state is now the subject of two big court fights: One in Washington D.C., where Latino groups and the U.S. Dept. of Justice are contending that the four new districts discriminate against minority voters because they do not reflect the demographic reality in Texas (a decision on whether the issue can go to trial is expected today in federal court); and one in San Antonio, where a decision is being made on how temporary districts should be drawn while the Washington fight is decided.

We talked to Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the group at the forefront of the redistricting battle, about the state’s long history with voter suppression and why this is a historic moment.

Other states redraw their districts and never have to go to court to get it cleared federally. Why does Texas?

Texas was part of the Old South [where there was a history of voting rights violations] so anything that Texas does to change election schedules or anything dealing with voters has to be cleared, pursuant to the United States Voting Rights Act. When Texas draws its districts, it has to pre-clear them either through the Department of Justice or they can file a lawsuit against the federal government and the lawsuit is in DC.

What’s different about this redistricting effort than past redistricting efforts?

The game changer in Texas is that it grew at a dramatic rate, more so than many other state, and as a consequence of that growth we received four new additional congressional districts. Ninety percent of all growth in the state was from minorities and not one new district was drawn for minorities. So that’s what we are challenging. We are claiming that you cannot gain four new seats in Congress and be given the same number of minority seats that you have today when we are the reason for the growth.

The state of Texas essentially drew four new districts that are not Latino “opportunity” districts though Latinos constitute a large part of the areas responsible for the state’s growth. How is this possible?

The districts that we are making the case for—one in Houston, two in Dallas-Ft Worth and two in Central to South Texas—all are largely Latino, they all represented the largest growth patterns in the state of Texas and all are largely blue collar, working class, facing the same challenges when it comes to adequate access to public education, access to healthcare. They are yearning to be represented. And the notion that they can be represented by one of their own, who understands those issues and walks in their shoes, you cannot tell me that that will not have an impact when it comes to policy choices and outcomes.

How many Latino districts are there now in Texas and how many should there be?

We’ve determined you could have at least 10 Latino opportunity districts. Right now the state believes that they can only have seven, and that’s the inconsistency. We believe that three of those four new districts should be minority opportunity districts and we’ve presented very compelling case here in San Antonio and we intend to do the same in Washington.

Tell us about Texas’ history with voter suppression and discrimination.

We take the view as Latinos in Texas, nothing is given to us. We have had to fight and challenge our way through everything, whether it’s access to public health or textbooks to read in the classrooms, to our voting rights. So this is something that is part of the constant struggle that Latinos have in states like Texas. If Texas is willing to accept that 90 percent of the growth in Texas being minority and receive four new Congressional seats because of it, they have to acknowledge that population when drawing the maps for these district or at least make an effort.

It’s a historic moment to see the largest demographic in the state of Texas still having to struggle and assert its rights to have a seat at the table when it comes to voting rights. But they cannot ignore us.