FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Ruth Baker, known to her south Fort Worth neighbors as “Cookie,” and Ann Cruz Favela, a church youth leader on the north side, wanted change when they cast their votes in the 2008 elections.
Now they are wondering – upset actually – that their votes, and those cast by others in their respective neighborhoods, may have caused more of a change than they wanted.
“It took a long time to cultivate people to vote … as a single voice,” Favela told CBS 11 News, referring to efforts to better engage Hispanics in politics, both locally, statewide and nationally. “Our one voice that we were able to cultivate,” she added, “maybe it got too loud.”
What Baker and Favela are upset with is a partisan process as old as politics. Many call it gerrymandering, or the redrawing of voting boundaries, to benefit a certain political party.
Critics say it happened in a big way earlier this year when the Republican-controlled Texas legislature redrew the constituent boundaries for local, state and federal lawmakers who represent Texans.
Some of the biggest changes were made to the political boundaries for Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat who, in a surprising upset in 2008, beat the Republican incumbent, Kim Brimer.
Much of Davis’ support – and many credit it with her victory — came in the predominantly black neighborhoods of south Fort Worth and the largely Hispanic areas on the city’s north side. It is no coincidence, Democrats say, that in redrawing Sen. Davis’ district this year, Republican legislators cut out much of the north and south sides of the city that are traditionally Democratic Party strongholds.
Under the new map, southside residents would be represented by a Republican senator from Granbury and northside residents would be assigned to a senator, also Republican, from Flower Mound.
That shuffle, according to critics of the new boundaries, would make it increasingly hard for Davis to retain her seat against a Republican opponent in next year’s elections.
“I’m really mad about it,” said Baker, a funeral director. “The way I see it, the people who were drawn out of the district, and I’m one of them, were the Hispanic people on the north side and the black people on the south side,” she said, adding:
“It seems to me that it’s very obvious that it’s a …partisan and calculated gerrymandering of the lines.”
Stephanie Klick, head of the Republican Party in Tarrant County, denied that race had anything to do with redrawing Davis’ boundaries. But she conceded that partisan politics had an influence.
“I think the Democrats have their political motivations, and I think the Republicans do as well,” Klick told CBS 11 News.
Democrats and Republicans agree that when it comes time, as required by law, to redraw political boundaries every 10 years – presumably only to adjust for population changes – they will fudge in favor of their own party if given the chance.
“That’s reality. There’s nothing illegal about that,” said Klick.
Davis disagrees, saying that the way her district was redrawn violates the federal Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 to protect minorities at the ballot box.
“When these minority communities are fractured, split apart and placed into districts with a group of people who don’t have the same issues of concern, they can’t be represented (fairly),” Davis said.
The U.S. Department of Justice, at the behest of Democrats, is reviewing the proposed changes to Davis’ district and lengthy legal challenges are expected. It was for those reasons that Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound and Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury both declined to be interviewed by CBS 11 News.
Instead, Nelson issued a statement that said, in part: “I have always represented a mix of urban, suburban and rural communities, and that doesn’t change under the new map … That must continue as we work to protect our region’s economic health and advance our shared priorities.”
That doesn’t do much, however, to sway Baker’s feelings. “I really am disturbed by this,” she said. “It’s very unfair … it’s so obvious, just right in your face.”