EDITOR"S NOTE: According to to the 2010 Census, the population of Texas surged by 20.6 percent over the previous decade—enough to give state four new seats in the U.S. Congress. Latinos, who lean Democratic, accounted for two-thirds of that increase, but Republicans have a huge majority in the state Legislature, setting up major battles over how new political districts will be drawn for legislative and congressional seats. Democratic State Senator Carlos Uresti comments on the GOP-controlled process so far and what it means for Latino political power in the nation's second-most-populous state.
AUSTIN, Tex.—Conducted behind the scenes for most of the session, the partisan task of redistricting emerged on center stage this past week with a 16-hour debate over new political boundaries for the Texas House of Representatives, Carlos Uresti of New America Media reported.
The House map, in contrast to Voter ID and other bogus "ballot security" measures, fails to acknowledge a fundamental fact that is changing the face and future of Texas—the explosive growth of Hispanics.
According to the 2010 Census, Latinos now make up 38 percent of the state's 25.1 million people. From the Rio Grande Valley up to San Antonio, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth, the urban and suburban areas experienced tremendous growth over the last 10 years as the population dwindled in rural areas.
That growth was fueled by Hispanics, who accounted for some two-thirds of the state's population increase—yet map makers in the state House drew new political boundaries with little regard for the changing demographics of Texas.
The House map would add just one district with 50 percent or more registered voters with Spanish surnames.
Most Hispanic legislators and voting rights activists contended that at least five new Hispanic seats should have been created.
But during the marathon debate, amendments designed to accomplish that were defeated, one after another, by a Republican supermajority reluctant to give up GOP seats.
A similar fight is shaping up over congressional redistricting. Because of population growth, Texas is getting four additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, enlarging the state's delegation to 36.
While a consensus seems to be emerging among map makers to give two of those seats to Hispanics, I think a strong argument could be made for three and perhaps all four.
Yet some Republicans, most notably Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis, don't want to give up a single one.
The Justice Department and the courts will eventually have something to say about that, along with the state maps for the Texas House, Senate and State Board of Education.
The redistricting process is not the only way that some people are attempting to curb the growing political force of Hispanics in Texas.
Anti-immigrant legislation and so-called ballot security measures like Voter ID are designed to suppress voter turnout among Hispanics, a traditional Democratic constituency.
The fear of Hispanic voters was also in display in the 2010 election, when an attempt was made to silence their voice at the polls. As early voting got under way in one of the most important elections of this generation, a group called Latinos for Reform advised us: "Don't vote this November."
This "stay-home" campaign, created by a former consultant for the Republican National Committee, was a sad, cynical attempt to blunt the growing influence of Hispanics.
With so much at stake in the national debate over government spending and taxation, health care, immigration, civil and human rights, the war on terrorism and national security, every American who is eligible to vote should be encouraged to do so.
And as the face of Texas changes, Hispanics should have their fair share of political opportunity, both as voters and as candidates for office. No one should be afraid of that.
Carlos Uresti is a Democratic member of the Texas Senate representing District 19, the largest senatorial district in the state, encompassing 23 counties and 55,000 square miles.