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June 6, 2011 - Session Watch

GOP congressional map for Texas would make Gov. Gerry proud

By Sen. Carlos Uresti

Next March will be the 200th anniversary of the first printed use of the word gerrymander. The Republican redistricting map for Texas' congressional districts shows that the word and its practice have not gone out of style.

The map approved by the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee on Friday was never subject to real public scrutiny. It was substituted for another map that was crafted under wraps over the last five months, unveiled three days on Tuesday and offered for public comment on Friday morning.

That's the political equivalent of "Move along, citizens. Nothing to see here."

But for anyone who took an up-close look at the map, there' was plenty to see — lots of twists and turns, angles and tentacles, districts tortured into shapes designed to blunt the Latino vote in Texas.

The new congressional map clearly does not reflect the changing demographics of our state, both the change that has already occurred and the change that's on the way.

According to the last Census, Texas became a majority-minority state over the last decade. Its booming population growth, which gave it four additional congressional seats, was driven by increases among Latinos.

The Census found that the percentage of Latinos in Texas rose from 32 percent to 38 percent, and almost half of all Texans under age 18, 48 percent, are Latino.

As Texas becomes more diverse, the faces in the Legislature and our congressional delegation must change. This map not only fails to reflect that change, it attempts to curb the influence of Latinos in Texas as that change takes place.

Rather than working to address the needs of Latinos, Republican map-makers have produced a set of political boundaries that undermine their voting strength.

I don't believe this plan will pass muster with the Justice Department because it reduces the number of districts where minority voters have an opportunity to elect their candidate of choice. Given the increase in the Latino population, there should more opportunities for them to elect candidates of their choice, not less.

In particular, the absence of a new Latino majority district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is completely indefensible. I offered an amendment to do just that, but it was rejected on a vote of 8-4, leaving 1.3 million Latinos in the region unrepresented.

As the namesake for self-serving map-making, Gov. Elbridge Gerry would be proud of this redistricting plan.

Gerrymander was first used in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812, to describe the redrawing of Massachusetts' State Senate districts in a way that benefitted Gov. Gerry's party. The redistricting plan he signed contained a Boston-area district that resembled a salamander, and a new word was added to our political lexicon.

Almost two centuries later, Gerry's nefarious practice is still alive. Reaching into the past, the Republicans have crafted a redistricting plan that stands in the way of the future.

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