AUSTIN (AP) – Texas Republican lawmakers unveiled their proposed map for new congressional districts on Tuesday, and Gov. Rick Perry placed it on the special legislative session agenda.
The map appears intended to guarantee that Republicans continue to hold almost all of the Texas seats in Congress. Democrats immediately condemned the map.
Lawmakers are required to redraw political districts every 10 years after a new census comes out. Texas will add four new congressional seats in the 2012 election because of population growth, mostly among Hispanics and African-Americans.
The redistricting committees in the House and Senate failed to introduce a congressional map during the regular session that ended Monday.
The map drafted by Rep. Burt Solomons, the Republican chair of the House Redistricting Committee, and Republican Sen. Kel Seliger, the chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, adds additional districts to the Austin, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth areas by drawing districts that begin thin and finger-like in urban areas and then expand out to encompass large rural areas, where Republicans dominate.
Seliger said his map would meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of suppressing minority voter turnout to receive federal approval for new districts to guarantee fairness.
“This map is a product of a lot of work and cooperation,” Seliger said. “I believe this map is fair and legal, and will serve the people of Texas well for the next ten years.”
Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat on the Redistricting Committee, said the Republican plan “is a slap in the face of minority voters responsible for 90 percent of Texas growth in the last decade.”
“This map is the very definition of an unfair and illegal congressional plan,” Veasey said. “A plan that splits and packs the 2.1 million African-Americans and Latinos in Dallas and Tarrant counties to provide us only one effective voice in Congress is not just illegal, it’s wrong.”
The proposal adds a new district that stretches from Austin to San Antonio and another one that stretches from Houston into East Texas, among others. It did not add a district to the fast-growing Rio Grande Valley, where many experts expected to see a new district.
“The Solomons-Seliger map does not increase the number of Latino opportunity congressional districts despite the fact that 65 percent of the state’s growth over the past decade was comprised of Latinos,” said Nina Perales, vice president for litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. “Instead, the map gerrymanders more than 9 million Latinos in Texas to make sure that we have no more electoral opportunity than we did in 1991.”
Any congressional map is subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act and activists will almost certainly file a federal lawsuit against the map.
“The question is not whether or not there is going to be a lawsuit, the question is whether or not your map can withstand a legal challenge,” Seliger said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)