April 19, 2013
Texas Senator Kirk Watson issued the following statement on Thursday to the Senate Committee on State Affairs regarding Senate Bill 1524, which would address redistricting for Texas House, Senate and Congressional districts.
Redistricting is a famously divisive, partisan, contentious issue. We should consider it a blessing that as legislators, we’re required to take it up just once a decade.
And yet, since 2001, this is the fourth serious legislative effort to redraw district lines in Texas. It comes even as last session’s effort continues to be litigated. It’s disappointing to see this committee, along with those in control of the Senate and the Capitol, choosing to take up such a divisive issue when there’s no need to.
There are many problems with redistricting in Texas, but one of the biggest is trust. That’s regrettable, since, on other issues, there’s more than enough trust in the Senate for us to work together on the business of Texans.
But redistricting, unfortunately and as always, is different.
This process necessarily creates winners and losers, and repeated efforts to deny certain voters the ability to elect the candidates of their choice has resulted in lawsuits and even broken quorums — all of which sought only to preserve the voice and voting strength of ALL voters in this state.
For good reason, neither I nor my 11 colleagues who represent districts where minority voters have demonstrated the ability to elect their candidates of choice can trust the redistricting process.
We are less than a year since a three judge panel in the Washington D.C. federal court — after hearing evidence of purposeful discrimination — ruled that the House, Senate and congressional maps adopted by the Legislature in 2011 violate Section 5 of the US Voting Rights Act. More damning, they unanimously ruled that the Senate and the congressional plans were drawn with a discriminatory purpose.
Texas was the only state in the nation subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was found to have deliberately discriminated against African-American and Latino citizens. This is not a distinction in which Texas should be leading the country.
And even now, Texas is arguing before the US Supreme Court that these discriminatory maps should be reactivated. At the same time, Texas is asking the Court to repeal Section 5, which would take away the key protection that minority Texans have against the very type of purposeful discrimination.
So, in light of all of this, it’s only natural that neither I nor my colleagues will support this or any legislative redistricting plan over the final 39 days of this session. The process initiated with last year’s discriminatory maps should be given time to play out. Subjecting it to another session of politics and division would be a disservice to Democrats, Republicans and all Texans.
While interim Senate Plan 172, which was ordered by the San Antonio federal court, reunited the minority neighborhoods in Senate District 10 and removed the principal violations in the Senate map, the same is not true for the interim House and Congressional maps. Those interim maps retain far too many of the features that rob African American and Latino voters their full and fair voting strength.
So my colleagues and I pre-emptively, and respectfully, will oppose even efforts to separate the Senate map from the House and Congressional ones and to move it as a stand-alone bill. Too much can go wrong — and too much has gone wrong — for anyone to trust that good faith efforts won’t be corrupted. It’s far too plausible that once the bill would clear the Senate, the House and Congressional maps would be amended onto it, with the bill then returned to the senate for a simple majority vote.
This, of course, would allow the House and Congressional maps to bypass our two-thirds rule — the only real legislative protection that African-American and Latino voters have in this process.
And as long as Texas continues to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that the state-passed discriminatory maps should be reinstated and that the Voting Rights Act should be repealed, there is no reason to trust the purpose of moving forward.
Instead of spending any more time on this wrenching issue, we should work together to improve schools, bolster health care, fund badly needed road and water infrastructure, and address the host of other issues facing Texans. Voters are not well-served by another redistricting effort, especially one that is likely to undermine minority voting rights.
We need to restore trust, not take on an optional controversy that will only undermine it.