AUSTIN (AP) – Attorneys for minority groups in Texas are criticizing the makeup of four new congressional seats.
The state is getting the new seats because of mostly Hispanic population growth. But in opening statements Tuesday, attorneys argued that the new map illegally dilutes minority voting strength and that the new districts do not fairly reflect the demographics of the new population.
The GOP-drawn congressional and legislative maps are the subject of a trial before a three-judge panel in San Antonio.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office serves as the state’s attorney, contends the map maintains or increases the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice in each district.
But opponents say that’s tricky math.
Republicans are trying to “hold back the demographic wave by undermining the voting strength of blacks and Hispanics,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist who is helping a group of plaintiffs in the case. He argues that instead of adding new minority districts, the Republican plan just swaps minority voters from one district to another.
The new congressional map, signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, was drawn with the goal of protecting and possibly expanding the GOP’s 23-9 majority in Texas’ delegation in Washington. The Texas Legislature is required to redraw voting lines once a decade to reflect population changes as measured by the U.S. Census.
Democrats argue that the Republican plan splits Hispanic and black communities so that conservative white residents would be more likely to win seats in Congress.
Black Texans are being “put in districts where (white) congress folks do not believe in the things that they believe in,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP.
The Voting Rights Act requires map drawers to give special protection to districts that contain mostly minorities.
Angle called the Republican-drawn map “cynical.”
“They’re playing games with numbers,” he said. “They say they created two new Hispanic districts but they didn’t.” He argues that the new map simply replaces two existing minority seats with new ones and added four mostly white, GOP-dominated seats.
“Anglos make up only 45.3 percent of Texas’ population, but under the Republican map, Anglos will control 70 percent of the districts,” he said.
Democrats have complained that the map splits the Austin area into five districts, denying the most Democratic part of the state a single seat and making it difficult for Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a perennial antagonist of Republican leaders, to get re-elected. His Austin-based district would favor a Republican candidate in a mostly white district stretching from Austin to Fort Worth.
“Republicans don’t want Travis County to serve as the base of any district because Travis County is one of the few places in the state that, as a county, votes Democratic and has Anglos that are Democrats,” he said. “They want to pack minority voters into as few districts as possible and crack a few of them into safe Republican districts.”
Under the Voting Rights Act, new Texas maps must be cleared by the U.S. Dept. of Justice to ensure the changes do not diminish minority representation. That case is pending in Washington.
The three-judge panel in San Antonio has said the trial will last nine days, ending Sept. 16. Proceedings have been sped up in order to meet several election deadlines before the March 2012 primary.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)