Texas redistricting plan threatens equality

AUSTIN, Texas – The return to Texas from Albuquerque, N.M., by Texas state Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) broke the back of his fellow Democratic state senators’ fight to stop the Karl Rove, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay power grab in Texas. These right-wingers are seeking to increase their slim majority in the U.S. Congress by redrawing Texas’s congressional districts in order to send five to seven more right-wing extremists to Congress from Texas.

Eleven Democratic senators, including Whitmire, left Austin in July before Gov. Rick Perry could call a second special redistricting session of the legislature. Nine of the 11 are African American or Latino. They left to deny the governor and his right-wing cronies a quorum in the Senate, which prevented the Bush, Rove, DeLay redistricting putsch from being enacted.

After Whitmire returned, Perry called a third special session that convened on Sept. 15. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said that he was suspending a longstanding Senate rule that requires two-thirds of the body to approve debate on a measure before it can be considered by the Senate. Dewhurst sidestepped tradition because 12 senators, including Bill Ratliff, a Republican from East Texas, have said that they would oppose the consideration of any redistricting plan.

Republicans will likely prevail in the third special session, but because redistricting dilutes the political power of Texas’s African American and Latino communities it will surely be challenged in court as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Most of the attacks aimed at the redistricting plot in Texas correctly cast it as part of a national right-wing power grab. While this criticism is absolutely true, what is often overlooked or underplayed is the racist nature of Republican redistricting.

All of the Republican redistricting proposals undermine minority political clout in the state. Republicans argue that their proposed plans are not racist because they create at least one new district that should be won by an African American. However, the key to making it possible for right-wing Republicans to pick up more seats in the state is to take minority voters out of districts represented by urban, white Democrats and put them in districts dominated by conservative white suburban voters.

When minority communities are included in these suburban districts, their power will be diminished. There will be fewer federal dollars flowing into minority communities and their issues will be relegated to the back burner.

But there’s another, related reason for splitting up minority voters and moving them into districts where they are a significant minority. The demographics of the state are shifting. Within 20 years, Latinos will be the largest ethnic group in the state. Latinos and African Americans will constitute a majority of the population. Their majority status could result in a huge shift in the state’s politics, similar to the one that has taken place in California.

Latino and African American voters tend to vote Democratic and are more likely to support the passage of laws that give working people more power and oppose those that diminish it. For example, polls show that African Americans and Latinos oppose in far greater numbers than white voters the Bush administration’s proposal to deprive millions of workers of overtime pay.

The Republican redistricting power grab is a pre-emptive action against Texas’s emerging majority. Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, and their right-wing cohorts are hoping to minimize the political impact of this demographic trend by drawing congressional boundaries in such a way as to create safe districts for more Republicans for years to come. In doing so, they are hoping to build a dike that will protect the privileges of their political base in the state at the expense of tomorrow’s majority.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org