Political advantage can't come at the expense of Texans' voting rights
By Sen. Carlos Uresti
The spirit of bipartisanship that made the 83rd Legislature such a success threatens to be overshadowed by a contentious special session on redistricting.
Of course, redistricting is largely a partisan undertaking, and it would be naïve to think that it could be accomplished without both sides trying to maximize their political interests. But the majority party's intention of merely rubber-stamping the interim maps does not fully address the unfairness and inadequacy of the unconstitutional political boundaries it imposed two years ago.
And addressing the issue in a special session, when different Senate rules put Democrats in a significant disadvantage, raises troubling questions about the openness, transparency, and fairness of the entire process.
The 2012 elections for the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives were conducted under an interim set of maps that were put in place by a federal court, but never intended to be the ultimate solution. These temporary maps were crafted after the court found intentional discrimination in the redistricting maps enacted by the 82nd Legislature in 2011.
The interim maps retained many of the discriminatory features of the 2011 redistricting plan, which largely ignored the explosive growth of Texas' Hispanic population over the previous 10 years. The congressional map was the most grievous of all, creating only one minority opportunity district. Minorities should have been given an opportunity to win at least two and perhaps three of the four new U.S. House seats that Texas gained in the 2010 census.
The interim maps were meant to be a short-term remedy for the 2012 elections, but now the majority party wants them enacted into law, even though they didn't solve all the problems identified by the court. Doing so would make it much more difficult, perhaps impossible, to produce political boundaries that truly represent the racial and cultural demographics of Texas.
The purpose of this special session, pure and simple, is to blunt that influence for the rest of the decade.
The partisanship that now pervades the Capitol stands in stark contrast to the spirit of cooperation that prevailed in the regular session, when Democrats and Republicans worked together to invest more money in public education, child protection, and mental health programs; reduced the number of stressful end-of-course exams for Texas students and gave them more curriculum choices, shored up the Teacher Retirement System, and began to address our future water needs with a $2 billion infusion from the rainy day fund.
There is no limit to what we can accomplish when working together, and that's what makes this special session on redistricting so tragic. Legislators who usually think of each other as family find themselves in a house divided.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, I am working to make this process as open as possible given the circumstances and provide all Texans an opportunity for input. And as chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, I am committed to pursuing alternative political boundaries that reflect the tremendous growth of the Latino population in Texas.
I am guided in this effort by one simple rule: no party should be able to obtain partisan advantage at the expense of any citizen's voting rights.