Houston Hosts Texas Redistricting Hearing (Video)

The University of Houston played host to a public hearing by the Texas House/Senate Redistricting Committees on Saturday, November 20. Nearly 200 members of the public and a few concerned Members of Congress showed up to express their opinions about one of the most important activities of the upcoming legislative sessions. Redistricting will effect the boundaries of US Congressional Districts and those of the Texas House and Senate. It will also determine the placement of the four ADDITIONAL Congressional Seats Texas is expected to receive.

The members of the Texas Congressional Delegation have chosen Rep. Lamar Smith (R - San Antonio) to represent the Republicans and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D - Austin) to represent the Democrats as liaison to the Redistricting Committees. The US House of Representatives has no official say in the redistricting process.

Redistricting Panel

The panel, made up of members of the Texas House and Senate, were there apparently to listen and ask questions but not to offer information about any plans for new boundaries. Perhaps it is still too early for them. Once the new legislature opens for business, redistricting committees in both the House and the Senate will begin to work on defining the new districts. Ultimately, the final boundaries will be reviewed by the Justice department and could be decided in the courts.

Congressman Gene GreenFirst to speak were three members of the US House. Those were Congressmen Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands), Gene Green (D-NE Houston), Al Green (D- S Houston) and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D - Central Houston). Congressman Gene Green urged the panel to consider placing one of the new Congressional Seats in Houston in an area that would create another "Hispanic Opportunity" seat. (Affirmative Action for Congress.) The district currently served by Congressman Green is a "Hispanic Opportunity" seat. Interestingly, after the last redistricting, Congressman Green remarked he had to buy his wife a new home as the new line came right up to his back fence, but excluded his home. Are these the kinds of games we need to play with redistricting?

Congressman Kevin BradyCongressman Kevin Brady urged the panel to fairly allocate seats based on keeping communities of common interest together. He asked the committees to complete the work in such a way as to keep the courts out of the process.  

Congressman Al Green Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

Congressmembers Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee both spoke about protecting minority districts.

Once the Congressional Members finished their testimony, many panel members left the room as members of the public began to speak.

One of the most heated moments of the day came during a testimony by former Congressional Candidate John Faulk. Faulk was endorsing a plan previously laid out by a woman who lives in CD 18. Her plan called for the division of Houston Districts evenly by population rather than by ethnic division. The plan would break the Congressional Districts serving Houston into "pie or wedge" shaped districts radiating out from the center of Houston. Texas Senator Royce West (D - Dallas) took strong objection to this plan. He didn't seem to object when the plan was introduced by the woman but only when endorsed by Faulk. After a heated exchange between the two of them, Senator West stormed out of the room. Throughout the day, Senator West seemed upset about any discussion that divided districts along anything but racial lines.  

Note the empty seat of Senator West as Mr. Jim Bowie (also a black man) spoke next, also endorsing the same fairness plan as had previously been introduced.

The most popular speech of the day came from Mr. Alan Vera, a former Army Ranger and 2001 Houston Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year award winner. He spoke of fairness in the redistricting process. Vera said, “We are perpetuating walls that divide us instead of creating districts that unite us,” referring to the current racial oriented districting plans. He also emphasized the concept that a Hispanic can be represented by a non-Hispanic, a black can be represented by a non-black, a white can be represented by a non white. He urged the members to consider creating three to five districts based upon community interests and not skin color.

This will be a long drawn out battle. Republicans who spoke on this day seemed to be seeking "fairness" in the redistricting process. They talked about reducing the political polarization that has been caused by "safe" seats. Democrats who spoke seemed to call for more of the same. Continuing the racial boundaries that pit groups against groups.

Would we, as Americans, be better served by districts that are drawn around non-racial lines; creating more "compact" districts that have a mixture of racial and political residents? Is there a way, under the current process, where we can reduce the political tension and get people working together to find the best representative rather than the one who is the "right color"? Didn't someone have a dream about something like that?

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