Texans battle for voting rights

When a Republican District Attorney in Waller County, Texas wrote a letter claiming that students at Prairie View A&M University, which has an almost totally African American student population, did not necessarily have the right to vote in the county, 5,000 students marched two and a half hours in wet weather to the courthouse. There they held a big political rally and voter registration celebration.

African American office holders and candidates all over the state publicly applauded the students.

The Dallas Chapter of the NAACP started a coalition to coordinate and increase voter registration. Union leaders, community groups, peace activists, and other civil rights organizations, including Latino and Muslim groups, quickly joined in.

There are other signs of fightback in Texas, too. On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal to block a Republican-backed congressional redistricting plan for the November elections, all but one of the Texas Democrats who were redistricted right out of their congressional seats vowed to fight on despite all obstacles.

The Democrats had argued that the GOP-engineered redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by trying to dilute minority representation. The Supreme Court, however, has allowed the plan to go forward. Further Supreme Court action will not affect the November election.

Republicans rigged the districts so that can they expect to change the present 16-16 party split in the Texas congressional delegation to 22-10 in their favor. Some of the new districts are commonly referred to as “bacon strips” due to their long and narrow shapes. Republicans found such contorted shapes necessary in order to give the more politically conservative suburban areas hegemony over the cities where more workers and minority voters dwell.

Their task was made more difficult because there are actually more votes cast in Democratic primaries than in Republican primaries, because the Democrats in the legislature stubbornly fought redistricting by fleeing the state to prevent a quorum, and because thousands of ordinary Texans joined public protests.

Only two Democratic incumbents caved in: Jim Turner decided not to run, and “Renegade Ralph” Hall, who has voted with Bush all along, changed his outer clothing to the Republican Party.

Six others proudly and defiantly declared themselves in the running in new, heavily-rigged, Republican districts. Charles Stenholm, Max Sandlin, Ciro Rodriguez, Lloyd Doggett, Chet Edwards, and Martin Frost declared their campaigns right before the filing deadline.

Frost, the senior Democrat in the Texas delegation, waited until the last day to declare. He chose to face off against Pete Sessions of East Texas, whose new district includes the richest and most pro-Republican section of Dallas County. The Highland Park suburb, located within the city of Dallas, is home to the most extravagant mansions in Texas.

Residents of Highland Park include some of the most noted right-wingers in recent American history, such as the H.L. Hunt family of John Birch Society fame and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Almost immediately after the court’s decision, union campaign activists were already knocking on doors for Democratic candidates.

The author can be reached at http://tx.cpusa.org.