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Guest Blog by Marion Mlotok

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Texas Senate held a public hearing on redistricting as a launch of the 83rd 1st special session.  The hearing started at 9:00 am and closed at 11:30 am after everyone had testified.  Testimony was for 3 minutes each. I arrived early to a nearly empty auditorium, and when the hearing started, the hearing room was far from packed.

A number of attendees at the hearing, including some of the Senators, pointed out that this was mighty short notice for a public hearing with such far-reaching consequences.  The announcement of the hearing was made Monday, May 27 at 5:30 pm, 62 hours before the hearing, according to Chair, Kel Seliger.  Also the hearing was set for 9:00am on a work day.  No field hearings were or will be scheduled.  It was also brought up that the minorities most affected by this redistricting were the least likely to be able to arrange and afford to take time off work, arrange and afford childcare and afford transportation to Austin.

There will be two more Senate redistricting hearings, Thursday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 12, both at 9:00 a.m. in the Finance Room, E1.036.  All amendments and alterations must be submitted by noon June 10 for consideration for the June 12 meeting.

Most of the testimony was opposed to the maps in SB1, SB2, SB3 and SB4 on the basis of disenfranchisement of minorities.

My testimony was about Austin being split into 6 US Congressional districts, one snaking to Houston, one to Fort Worth, two to San Antonio and one to Laredo.  I pointed that Austin would have no US Congressional representation in Washington.  Austin is big enough to have 7/8 of it as one Congressional district.  In a world that made sense, the other 1/8 of Austin would be in a compact district contiguous with the main Austin district.  Likewise, Travis County is big enough to be almost two US Congressional districts and shouldn’t be split into 5 districts, effectively disenfranchising Travis voters in Washington.

The only elected officials from Travis County or Austin represented were the Travis County Commissioners who registered opposition to the US Congressional map splitting Travis County into 5 US Congressional districts, each having less than 35% of the voters from the district living in Travis County.  The objection was that effectively Travis County would have no representation in the US Congress.

The maps in these bills are the interim maps that were drawn so we could have 2012 elections.  You’ll find interactive maps on the official Texas Redistricting website here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html

You can choose cities and choose to overlay various maps that have been submitted as well as overlay the interim maps for US Congress, Texas Senate and Texas House.

Parallel to this, court is in session in San Antonio with various minority plaintiffs on our redistricting vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.

House Hearings
The House will be having hearings on the companion bills HB1, HB2, HB3 and HB4 tomorrow, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, both days at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004, opposite the cafeteria.

I would urge those who can to attend the hearings and record your opposition to these bills.  They disenfranchise the minority vote and they disenfranchise Austin and Travis County.  To that end,  I’ve reached out to a number of our City Council members and Texas House Reps from Austin and our Austin/Travis Senator Kirk Watson to please come to the hearings and get on record with their voice on this significant issue for the area.

Video of the hearing is at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchives/ramav.php?ram=00006247

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Well, it’s official– and let the bloodbath begin.

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas has been growing (this we knew), but by enough to mean that we will get 4 new Congressional seats.  Much of our growth has been occurring in suburbs and exurbs, and we’ve been losing relative population in rural areas, so it will be interesting to see how our Congressional and Legislative seats are reapportioned.

How these district lines will be drawn are now up to the Legislature, who will draw the maps that they, themselves, will run in.  Obviously, this creates a serious conflict of interest, as instead of having voters choose their representatives, we have representatives choosing their voters.

Some have guessed that the sudden party switch of the now-tilde-less Rep. Aaron Pena may be due to his desire to run for Congress– getting a seat at the table to carve up a custom-made Congressional seat would certainly make that tempting.  And this is exactly the kind of problem that we have when Legislators draw their own districts.

Given Texas’ troubled history with redistricting, including but not limited to the illegal redistricting plan forced through the Lege by Tom DeLay and the subsequent flight of Democratic lawmakers to Oklahoma, it is time for Texas to do the right thing and move to a system of independent redistricting.

Many states have adopted this vital reform, and Texas has considered this before, including bills in the last Legislative session by Rep. Mark Strama, a Democrat, and Senator Jeff Wentworth, a Republican.

The problem is, partisan politics is getting in the way of what is a bipartisan-supported reform measure.  Neither party wants to give up the possibility of being able to control redistricting, as Democrats believe demographic changes are moving in their favor, and Republicans think they can maintain control over a traditionally conservative state.  As to who is right and who is wrong, I don’t care.  But both parties need to be less like the partisan animals they so often can be, and more like Frodo.  (please forgive my nerd birdwalk here, but it illustrates an important point)

Frodo didn’t want to get rid of the ring of power, and it corrupted him, but he needed to get rid of it.  Unfortunately, when faced with the choice and standing at the precipice, he failed to make the right choice.  He had to have the ring forcibly taken from him, and cast into the fire.  I hate to compare “the people” to Gollum, but that’s what we have to do– bit the ring of power off of our leaders’ fingers and destroy it forever, so they can deal with more important issues, like, oh, say, $20-$25 billion dollar deficits and such.

Whatever bloodletting occurs over the upcoming redistricting fight (and there will be a fight), it ought to be accompanied by a bipartisan support for an independent, non-partisan redistricting plan.

And for a little bit more fun:

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Come one, come all. The House Committee on Redistricting is taking public testimony at hearings around the state regarding redistricting that will help shape the districts for both the house and senate of the Texas legislature, Texas congressional districts, and districts for the election of judicial officers or of governing bodies or representatives of political subdivisions or state agencies as required by law, including state board of education districts for the next ten years..

The HOUSTON REDISTRICTING HEARING will be held on November 20, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. at University of Houston, Athletic/Alumni Center, O’Quinn Great Hall, 3100 Cullen Boulevard, Houston, TX, 77004.

For more information on redistricting, including links to video of earlier hearings in other communities around the state, see our earlier blog by clicking here

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Austin Redistricting Hearing

Come one, come all.  The House Committee on Redistricting is taking public testimony at hearings around the state regarding redistricting that will help shape the districts for both the house and senate of the Texas legislature, Texas congressional districts, and districts for the election of judicial officers or of governing bodies or representatives of political subdivisions or state agencies as required by law, including state board of education districts for the next ten years.  After this mid-cycle election, we can expect a pretty draconian effort on the part of the Republicans to stack the redistricting disproportionately in their favor. 

The AUSTIN REDISTRICTING HEARING will be held on November 17, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. at the Texas State Capitol, Underground Extension, Hearing Room E1.030, in Austin, TX.

For more information on redistricting, including links to video of earlier hearings in other communities around the state, see our earlier blog by clicking here

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Republican gains in Congress were the major stories for the national media, but it is the party’s gains in down-ballot local state house races that may have created the most lasting protection for the GOP‘s new majority in the House of Representatives.

Once every decade, state legislators begin the process of redrawing congressional districts to reflect changes in population.  A by-product of this process is that it can serve to insulate representatives from future difficult re-elections.

According to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans will now hold about 53 percent of state legislative seats across the country, gaining at least 680 seats this election, the largest gain by either party since the mid 60s.

At issue are two different procedures:
Reapportionment: The number of seats in the U.S. House is fixed by law at 435. Every 10 years, after the Census has counted the population, some states gain House seats, others lose them to reflect shifts in populations.

Redistricting: In most states, state legislators, with advice from expert demographers and lawyers, obligatory input from citizens and with the final say of the governor, draw the new congressional district lines. State legislators draw the maps for 383 of the 435 seats in the House.

In most cases, governors can veto remapping plans and sometimes force legislatures dominated by the opposing party to alter plans to help protect his party’s incumbents.  This will not be the case in Texas this go-round since the Republicans dominate both state houses and hold the governorship.

The remapping takes into account the population shifts within states, the desire to protect incumbents and, of course, partisan advantage. At the margins, partisan mapping, or gerrymandering, can help one party keep a seat or make the party competitive in a place where it hadn’t been before. (In a 2004 decision, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that the partisan gerrymandering doesn’t violate the Constitution.)

In eight states, bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions handle the task.  This is not the case in Texas.

Currently, the House Committee on Redistricting is taking public testimony at hearings around the state regarding redistricting that will help shape the districts for both the house and senate of the Texas legislature and Texas congressional districts.

TexasVox will post information about hearings in your area as the information becomes available.  Click here to read an earlier blog about hearings with links to archived video of hearing around the state that have already happened.  If you are concerned about the impacts of redistricting on your state and congressional representation, plan on attending and testifying.

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The House Committee on Redistricting, as a function of it’s procedural jurisdiction and as part of the 81st legislature’s interim charges, is conducting public hearings around the state regarding redistricting that will occur during the 82nd Legislature, which begins January 11, 2011. 

The committee will be taking public testimony at these hearings and we would encourage you to attend a hearing in your area as the committee’s recommendations will help shape the districts for both the house and senate of the Texas legislature, Texas congressional districts, and districts for the election of judicial officers or of governing bodies or representatives of political subdivisions or state agencies as required by law, including state board of education districts for the next ten years.

Upcoming hearings include:

  • ABILENE REDISTRICTING
    October 27, 2010 at 12:00 P.M. at One AISD Center Board Room, 241 Pine Street, Abilene, TX 79601
  • AUSTIN REDISTRICTING
    November 17, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. at the Texas State Capitol, Underground Extension, Hearing Room E1.030, in Austin, TX
  • HOUSTON REDISTRICTING
    November 20, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. at University of Houston, Athletic/Alumni Center, O’Quinn Great Hall, 3100 Cullen Boulevard, Houston, TX, 77004

If you missed the hearing in your community, you can watch archived broadcasts of the hearing, just click on the link below.

Date Time & Link Redistricting Hearing
07/21/10 10:00 a.m. Corpus Christi Redistricting (part 1)
07/21/10 1:25 p.m. Corpus Christi Redistricting (part 2)
09/22/10 10:00 a.m. Dallas Redistricting
09/20/10 12:00 p.m. Dallas Redistricting
08/16/10 10:00 a.m. El Paso Redistricting
06/02/10 11:07 a.m. Joint Hearing with the Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence
07/20/10 10:10 a.m. Laredo Redistricting
08/18/10 12:00 p.m. Lubbock Redistricting
10/20/10 11:00a.m. Marshall Redistricting
07/19/10 12:06 p.m. McAllen Redistricting
06/21/10 10:00 a.m. San Antonio Redistricting
06/21/10 10:00 a.m. San Antonio Redistricting
09/21/10 10:00 a.m. Tarrant County Redistricting

(more…)

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Texas faces the possibility of real reform on how we draw our districts next time around, hopefully preventing the repeat of the debacle from last time around when a partisan agenda prompted a walkout by members of the Legislature. So, while doing some research about redistricting reform this morning I stumbled upon a “gem” of a “video game.”

Get Your Gerrymander On!

Get Your Gerrymander On!

In Redistricting: The Game, you’re taken through the pitfalls of partisan gerrymandering.  You get to draw your own districts,  put voters in districts based on whether they’re Republican, Democrat, White, Black, Hispanic, etc, bribe people– you know, just like the real process.

It’s not really that spectacular in terms of graphics, gameplay, etc, but it gives you a fair amount of idea what it would be like to have the power to draw the lines for your own purposes.

Play it online (no download required) at http://www.redistrictinggame.org/

Enjoy, and be sure to comment below on how you think redistricting  should be approached.

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