AUSTIN (AP) – Texas senators approved a new congressional redistricting map on Monday after a fierce debate over minority representation.
The Republican’s chief mapmaker, Sen. Kel Seliger, spent much of the debate Monday defending his map against Democratic attack. The measure passed the Senate on an 18-12 party-line vote and now goes to the House for consideration.
Lawmakers redraw congressional districts every 10 years when new census data comes out. This year Texas is adding four seats in Congress, bringing the total to 36. The Voting Rights Act requires Texas to make sure the map does not diminish minority representation and all maps require federal approval.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, questioned why Hispanic communities along the Rio Grande, in Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area would not see an increase in congressional representation in line with the state’s growing diversity.
“How is it fair that although Anglos only make up 45 percent of our population, but they control 72 percent of our congressional districts,” Lucio asked. “It does not make any sense; it is unfair.”
Seliger said experts had assured him the proposed map was fair and legal, though he acknowledged lawsuits have already been filed against his proposal.
“This process continues to be driven by the fairness of the process, and the legality,” Seliger said.
Critics complain that Seliger’s map also splits the Austin area into five different districts, denying the most Democratic part of the state a single seat. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the Travis County Democrat who would have a difficult time getting re-elected under the new map, condemned it.
“This map violates the Voting Rights Act and represents little more than another Republican slap at Hispanics. Its crooked lines harm families throughout the San Antonio to Austin corridor,” Doggett said. “But this map is far from final and will likely look very different on Election Day.”
Once a map is approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the next step is the Department of Justice. Groups opposing the map can file suit in federal court, where alternative maps can be introduced and considered by the judge.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)