March 31, 2011
Call in the kids, pull the blinds and lock the doors the 2010 census figures are in and redistricting is underway. That means the Legislature will change the boundaries of legislative, congressional and State Board of Education districts.
So we’re in for a no-holds-barred partisan political fire fight, with Republicans grabbing everything they can while Democrats scratch for whatever they can hold. Right?
Actually, it doesn’t have to be that way. The standards for redrawing district boundaries are guided by two overriding concerns — legal compliance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act and respect for established and recognized communities of interest. If partisan fights and political land grabs can be avoided and these two concerns take priority, Austin will continue to have clout in the Capitol and unity within our neighborhoods that make Travis County a special place to live and work.
For decades, Austin and Travis County have served as the core of Senate District 14. Even before Travis County had enough people to contain an entire Senate district, it provided the most population and the most votes in the district. Over the last 20 years, Travis County has grown rapidly, and the district includes most of the City of Austin.
Moreover, the minority population in Senate District 14 has grown in numbers and influence. Currently, Hispanics, African Americans and other minority residents make up over 50 percent of the population. Year after year, minority voters have elected their candidate of choice. Before I was elected, former Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos won against well-funded opponents on the strength of minority voters. My service in the Senate also is dependent upon my continuing to be the candidate of choice of minority voters.
Of course, our district is also held together by our shared interests, shared assets, shared points of view and our ability to work together successfully. Our neighborhoods come together as a unique and effective community of interest. We see the results. Hispanic, African American and integrated neighborhoods unite to elect a diverse slate of public office holders. We come together to plan and win initiatives that make our community stronger.
What does that mean in terms of redistricting? First, the Department of Justice has made clear that in districts like ours, where minority voters have the strength and numbers to elect their candidate of choice, changing the district boundaries in ways that reduce their strength would violate the Voting Rights Act. Further, in 2001, when Texas asked the Department of Justice to approve the current district, the growing strength of the minority vote was noted as justification for its boundaries. Finally, our distinct and effective community of interest has been recognized and reflected for decades in previous redistricting plans that have been approved by the state.
Redistricting for Texas doesn’t have to be a battle. State leaders need only to follow the law, recognize our diversity and our voting strength while also respecting the community of interest that we all have worked so hard to build and protect.
Certainly, the partisan forces that can turn redistricting into a blood sport are lurking. To some, our voting strength and our unity are viewed as political threats to their partisan interests. However, if redistricting does get ugly, we can’t turn away or hide in our houses until it’s all over. The facts and the law are on our side. We must do as we always do — come together with a united voice to defend each other and to protect our community.