Texas House panel’s Dallas hearing on redistricting grows contentious

By GROMER JEFFERS JR. Staff Writer gjeffers@dallasnews.com
Published: 06 June 2013 10:29 PM
Updated: 06 June 2013 11:21 PM

A House committee on redistricting opened its traveling show in Dallas on Thursday, as lawmakers jousted with each other and those testifying on a plan that’s set to sail through the Legislature but will certainly face legal challenges ahead.

Most of the testimony centered on whether to approve interim political maps used in the 2012 elections, or toss those lines out in favor of proposals that would create three congressional districts in North Texas where minorities could elect the candidate of their choice.

Black voters currently control two congressional districts in North Texas — one represented by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and one by Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Both are Democrats.
Activists and Democrats want a third district that would be anchored in Dallas and give Hispanic residents the chance to elect their chosen candidate.

There are 2.3 million minority voters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including 1.3 Hispanic residents.
“It is clearly possible to draw an effective Latino district in North Texas,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks.

Plans put forward by Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis and Rafael Anchia, both of Dallas, would create three minority districts, including a new Hispanic district either wholly or mostly in Dallas.
Others testified that changing interim maps, drawn by a federal court, was a waste of time and taxpayer money.

“People need to be conservative with money,” said Dallas Republican Adryana Boyne. “The judges in San Antonio drew a good map. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair.”

Dan Morenoff, a Dallas lawyer, said the Legislature should wait until a Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act before approving a redistricting plan. The high court is considering whether a provision that forces states such as Texas to have election laws approved by the federal government is constitutional.

“Ignore the bad advice of the governor,” Morenoff said. “There’s no reason for you and me to be wasting time on this map.”

The Legislature is in its second week of a special session called by Gov. Rick Perry, geared toward gaining approval of interim election boundaries for the Texas Senate, House and U.S. Congress. The boundaries were drawn by a federal panel in San Antonio after the Legislature’s original plan was deemed an intentional violation of the voting rights of minorities.

Republicans, in firm control of the Legislature, want to endorse the boundaries. Democrats contend that even though they were drawn by federal judges, they share some of the same discriminatory features of the maps the Legislature tried to pass.

Republicans have the votes to approve the interim maps, and Perry is expected to sign a bill into law. But Democrats are using the hearings to set the stage for legal challenges.
The strategy led to contentious exchanges at Thursday’s meeting at DART headquarters. Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert took exception to questions by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Emmert contends that Republicans and many activists opposed to the Legislature’s original plan agreed to the interim boundaries. Fischer asked Emmert to name the parties that agreed with the interim plan and Emmert refused.

Last year, former state Rep. Domingo Garcia and some members of the Latino Redistricting Task Force did sign off on the interim maps. And last week, Nina Perales, part of the task force, said the maps were not perfect, but did accomplish some goals. She did not support or oppose the maps.

“It seems that all they want to do is criticize and beat up Republicans who come here to talk about what they believe,” Emmert said. “It’s a shameful tactic.”
Fischer continued to press.

“This is a record we’re building,” he said. “This is a legislative proceeding.”
When Emmert asked Fischer a question, he responded: “Sit on this side of the table and you can ask all the questions you want.”

Hearings conducted by the House and Senate redistricting committees will continue across the state through next week.

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