Dis­trict rul­ing may re­shape Travis pol­i­tics

Lawyers to seek 2 or 3 dis­tricts in­stead of county’s cur­rent 5.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Chuck Lin­dell

Travis County could see ma­jor po­lit­i­cal changes after a fed­eral court or­dered two con­gres­sional dis­tricts to be re­drawn, say­ing this month that they were formed by the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture to in­ten­tion­ally dis­crim­i­nate against mi­nor­ity vot­ers.

Although the three-judge panel or­dered pro­posed maps to min­i­mize the im­pact on ad­ja­cent dis­tricts, a lawyer in­volved in the case said the court’s find­ings will re­quire whole­sale changes in Travis County — a Demo­cratic strong­hold that was split into five con­gres­sional dis­tricts, four rep­re­sented by Repub­li­cans.

“We will be of­fer­ing plans to re­duce the num­ber of splits in Travis County to three or fewer dis­tricts,” said Jose Garza, a law- yer for the Mex­i­can Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Cau­cus.

Such a change would in­crease mi­nor­ity vot­ing strength, plac­ing some GOP in­cum­bents at risk while giv­ing Democrats an ex­pected boost in rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Garza said Fri­day.

“There will be mod­i­fi­ca­tions that may in fact change the par­ti­san bal­ance in Travis County, just as a nat­u­ral re­sult of adding over 100,000 mi­nor­ity vot­ers who tend to vote Demo­cratic,” he said.

The new maps will be pre­sented to the San An­to­nio court and dis­cussed at a Sept. 5 hear­ing, Garza said.

How­ever, Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton on Fri­day asked

the U.S. Supreme Court to can­cel that hear­ing, argu- ing that the rul­ing from the three-judge panel shouldn’t take ef­fect while state offi- cials ap­peal their or­der for new dis­tricts.

“The maps are law­fu­land con­sti­tu­tional, and a stay is vi­tal to avoid­ing un­nec­es­sary elec­tion con­fu­sion while the Supreme Court re­views this case,” Pax­ton said in a writ­ten state­ment. “We are con­fi­dent that the Supreme Court will al­low Texas to con­tinue to use the maps used in the last three elec­tion cy­cles.”

Pax­ton also told the high court that he plans to cease to halt en­force­ment of another rul­ing by the same three­judge panel, which Thurs­day or­dered nine Texas House dis­tricts to be re­drawn, say­ing they, too, were cre­ated with the in­tent to dis­crimi- nate against Latino and African-Amer­i­can vot­ers.

Texas elec­tion of­fi­cials are op­er­at­ing on a tight time­line, Pax­ton told the court, with fi­nal maps needed by Oct. 1 to be ready for can­di­date elec­tion fil­ings that be­gin in mid-Novem­ber.

“The far bet­ter course would be for this court to in­ter­vene now,” Pax­ton wrote. “This will avoid the uncertainty and con­fu­sion en­gen­dered by draw­ing new re­me­dial maps on the eve of the Oct. 1 dead­line.”

The or­der by the three- judge panel came after a March 10 rul­ing that found fault with two area dis­tricts:

Dis­trict 35, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, which was ger­ry­man­dered along racial lines to de­stroy a dif­fer­ent dis­trict with sig­nif­i­cant Latino and African-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions that con­sis­tently voted for Democrats.

The judges also said the A fed­eral court ruled March 10 that Dis­trict 35, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was drawn in vi­o­la­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act. bound­aries were im­prop­erly set us­ing race as a tool for par­ti­san goals — an at­tempt by Repub­li­cans to un­seat Doggett by boost­ing his dis­trict’s His­panic pop­u­la­tion and ex­tend­ing the new dis­trict to San An­to­nio, mak­ing it more likely that vot- The three-judge panel that or­dered two Texas con­gres­sional dis­tricts and nine Texas House dis­tricts to be re­drawn in­cludes:

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Or­lando Gar­cia, a for­mer Demo­cratic mem­ber of the Texas House who was ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Xavier Ro­driguez, a for­mer Repub­li­can mem­ber of the Texas Supreme Court who was nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Jus­tice Jerry Smith of the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, who was nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan. ers would choose a Latino can­di­date.

Dis­trict 27, held by U.S. Rep. BlakeFar­en­thold, R-Cor­pus Christi, which in­cludes south­ern Bas­trop County and stretches south to the Coastal Bend along the Gulf of Mex­ico. The court ruled that the dis­trict, which pre­vi­ously ex­tended south to Brownsville and was heav- ily His­panic, was im­prop­erly drawn tore­duce the strength of Latino vot­ers.

Garza said he and other plain­tiffs lawyers read the court’s rul­ing as re­quir­ing Doggett’s dis­trict to be cen­tered more on San An­to­nio, mean­ing about200,000 Travis County vot­ers — liv­ing in ar­eas that tend to vote Demo­cratic, in­clud­ing about 100,000 mi­nor­ity vot­ers — will move into new dis­tricts.

Like­wise, the court said Nue­ces Co u n t y, which in­cludes Cor­pus Christi and has a sub­stan­tial pop­u­la­tion of Latino vot­ers, was placed into Far­en­thold’s An­glo-ma­jor­ity dis­trict to re­duce the Latino vot­ing strength.

The rip­ple ef­fect of re­lo­cat­ing 350,000 peo­ple in Nue­ces County and 200,000 in Travis County will be ex­ten­sive, Garza said.

“Those things can’t be done with a sliver,” he said. “So we’re go­ing to try to do thebest we can to min­i­mize the over­all change, but those are fairly sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion moves.”

If the Sept. 5 hear­ing is al­lowed to con­tinue, Texas of­fi­cials will have anop­por­tu­nity to present their maps as well as chal­lenge those pre­sented by plain­tiffs.

Doggett’s dis­trict was ruled to have been ger­ry­man­dered along racial lines.

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