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Naive American voters still believe that they select their Congressional representatives. Texans are under no such illusion after the bitter redistricting battle that took place there. Partisan and racial gerrymandering has created a situation in Texas and across the nation, where very few U.S. Congressional seats are competitive today — in effect allowing Congressmen to choose their voters.
U.S. House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay (R-TX), led the way for Republican Congressmen in Texas to pick their voters. The untold story of DeLay’s belligerent power grab in Texas redistricting involves partisan political domination, intrigue, alleged corruption and perhaps most significantly — minority disenfranchisement.
U.S. Congressional redistricting takes place in state legislatures once per decade, following the decennial census to reflect population shifts, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Tom DeLay led the effort to violate all historical precedent by drawing the Congressional district lines in Texas — twice.
In the first redistricting, the Texas state legislature was divided and could not agree on a plan in 2001. So, a three-judge Federal District Court drew the plan, finalizing the redistricting process, which is quite common. But the court-ordered plan did not fully guarantee that Republicans would completely dominate the U.S. Congressional delegations from Texas. So Tom DeLay decided to do it all over again mid-decade, which has never been done before.
Tom DeLay’s aids are currently under indictment for allegedly pumping illegal, corporate donations, laundered by his political action committee, into Republican state legislative races in 2002. Texas District Attorney, Ronnie Earle is looking at a possible indictment of DeLay himself on the same grounds. The obvious goal of the donations was to gain enough influence through contributions to Texas state legislators to compel them to redraw the original, court-ordered, redistricting plan.
After an epic battle, DeLay’s efforts paid off and he ultimately succeeded in securing a new plan from the Texas legislature. But first, DeLay and other Texas Republicans walked unflinching, through the scorching flames of public, media and Democratic opposition, in an attempt to eliminate 5-7 more Congressional Democrats than the original court-ordered plan required.
The Republicans disregarded the booming cacophony generated by the Texas body politic which opposed DeLay’s plan. With a total of over 200 editorials, every major newspaper in the State of Texas editorialized against redistricting. The TV coverage was more than 2-1 against his plan. The respected Texas Poll showed that only 26 percent of the Texas public thought there was a need to redraw the congressional district lines.
Thousands of people testified in statewide, public hearings about DeLay’s unprecedented plan. In Dallas County, where 200 people were expected to testify, 700 people showed-up spontaneously and stayed until 2 or 3:00 in the morning to testify. In emotional appeals, the vast majority of participants asked that time and resources be devoted to real issues that effect people’s lives — not to a second round of redistricting.
In court testimony, Republicans in Texas, guided by DeLay’s congressional staff, brazenly admitted that they were rewriting the plan for partisan political purposes. Tom DeLay’s intention was to leave no Democratic leaders standing. He went after the most senior, capable Democratic members of the Texas Congressional delegation.
“We must stress that a map that returns (Democratic U.S. Reps. Martin) Frost, (Chet) Edwards and (Lloyd) Doggett is unacceptable and not worth all of the time invested in this project,” wrote Delay aide Tom Ellis in a memo circulated among Republicans.
Tom DeLay’s efforts paid off big in the 2004 elections where he eventually gained 6 additional Congressional seats for Texas Republicans to replace a 17-15 Democratic majority in the congressional delegation with a 21-11 Republican majority. This partisan victory helped guaranteed Republican control of the U.S. Congress and the policies that go with it, well into the future.
Despite the blatant partisan gerrymandering that took place, and the negative consequences of one-party rule, the biggest casualty of the battle were minority voting rights. That is the untold story of Texas redistricting.
The Untold Story of Minority Voter Disenfranchisement in Texas
The Texas State House Democrats (the Killer D’s) secretly boarded buses from Austin Texas bound for Ardmore Oklahoma on Mother’s Day night 2003. Many did not even tell their wives where they were going. Tom DeLay used federal funds to send Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration to track down the state legislators.
Most believe that the Killer D’s were trying to deny Republican a quorum required to vote on the redistricting plan because of partisan rancor. In fact the Killer D’s felt morally bound to break quorum and leave Austin because minorities were being disenfranchised and the majority Republicans, led by Tom DeLay were abusing their power. The Killer D’s went to Ardmore because they knew that a political crime was being committed in Texas and leaving the State was their last resort.
Had the Killer D’s not broken quorum and 52 members not gone to Ardmore, Tom DeLay would have gotten his way with redistricting quickly and quietly, just as he had planned. Going to Ardmore was the most important factor in allowing the time necessary to draw public and media attention to this outrageous dilution of minority voting strength. It was an extraordinary act of discipline and courage on the part of the Texas State House Democrats.
The Killer D’s knew that DeLay’s plan, which was in place for the 2004 Texas Congressional elections, was drawn so that it maximized the influence of Suburban white voters and it minimized the influence of Hispanic and black voters in both rural and urban areas. They began to see that Tom DeLay’s plan was arguably the most significant set-back in minority voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.
In the Dallas/Tarrant County region, home to some 640,000 African-Americans and 950,000 Hispanics, DeLay’s plan impeded opportunities for minority voters to participate fully in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice by fragmenting or cracking minority communities, thereby submerging minority voters in districts dominated by Anglo voters.
DeLay’s plan dismantled Congressional District (CD) 24 in the Dallas/Tarrant region which under the Court’s plan had a combined black and Hispanic population of 60.2 percent. The state of Texas’s own redistricting expert, Dr. Keith Gaddie, Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma, admitted that the Court’s District 24 was an effective district for black voters to nominate candidates of their choice and then to elect those candidates in coalition with Hispanic voters.
Yet Delay’s plan scattered the minority voters of District 24 into five Anglo-dominated, Republican districts in which they lacked opportunities even to influence the outcomes of elections. The DeLay plan deliberately assured that these voters will be represented by members of Congress who do not share their priorities and interests.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted on 10 October 2003, “East and southeast Fort Worth (in Tarrant County) are shoved into a district dominated by affluent suburbs and Denton County and extending to the Oklahoma border. This abuse of low-income, minority voters alone should cause courts to reject the map.”
There is no justification of such fragmentation ñ not geography, preservation of whole counties or cities, preservation of senior incumbents, unification of communities of interest or retention of the cores of previous districts. To the contrary, the fragmentation of African-Americans in DeLay’s plan subverts rather than advances these criteria, demonstrating the racial intent of DeLay’s plan.
Leaders of the redistricting effort in the House and Senate likewise questioned the legality of fragmenting the black population in current CD 24. Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford), House leader of the Republican redistricting effort, withdrew from consideration in July a plan aimed at redrawing CD 24 as a Republican district. According to the Houston Chronicle, “King said he had discovered potential Voting Rights Act violations in his maps for the 18th and 25th districts in Houston and the 24th in Dallas.”
DeLay’s plan makes a far more drastic reduction of the combined black and Hispanic population in CD 24, reducing it not to 51 percent, as in King’s plan, but to 26 percent. And the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported, “Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said he probably goofed when he redrew the district represented by U.S. Rep. Martin Frost [D-Dallas]ÖKing had hoped to have the map approved by the House Committee on Redistricting… But he withdrew the map from consideration until it is modified.”
After withdrawing his map, King introduced a new design that restored CD 24 to its minority strength, in King’s words, “just to make sure that there was no possibility that we were in any way violating or going against the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.”
Later, on the eve of passage of DeLay’s plan, which was drafted behind closed doors by the Republican leadership and again targeted CD 24, King once more raised doubts about tampering with this district, citing an opinion from consulting lawyers that the dismantling of minority opportunity District 24 could not legally be offset by augmenting the black population of a congressional district in Houston.
Thus, legislators decided on the basis of secret meetings to crack and disperse black voter strength in CD 24 even though they believed they were tampering with a district protected under the Voting Rights Act, regardless of what was done in the Houston area. Clearly intentional discrimination against African-Americans in the Dallas/Tarrant region cannot be offset by changes elsewhere in the state any more than intentional discrimination against black employees in a company’s plant in Dallas could be corrected by better treatment of black employees at its plant in Houston.
In heavily Hispanic southwest Texas, the DeLay plan dismantled Congressional District 23, an Hispanic opportunity district under the Court’s plan, with a clear Spanish surname registration majority of 55 percent. The DeLay plan deliberately split heavily Hispanic Webb County in half, removing some 90,000 Hispanics and ensuring that Congressional District 23 would elect a Republican who does not share Hispanic interests.
DeLay’s plan represents the first time, anywhere in America, that majority-minority districts have been dismantled since the Voting Rights Act was passed. Plan drawers have failed to draw minority districts in the past when they could have, but they’ve never drawn one that existed and then taken it apart.
It is certain that the legislators who crafted and adopted the plan knew full well that in using minorities as pawns in this partisan game that they had dismantled an African-American and a Hispanic opportunity district and had submerged minority voters into districts where no such opportunity exists.
DeLay’s plan also dismantled seven districts (CDs 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 11, and 17) in which African-American and Hispanic voters play a critical role in determining the election of candidates in general elections ñ Anglo Democratic representatives who have faithfully represented minority interests in Congress. The minority voters in these influence districts are submerged under DeLay’s plan within heavily Republican districts ñ often with Republican incumbents ñ in which they will have no influence on the outcome of general elections and will be represented by members of Congress who do not share their priorities and interests.
The DeLay plan also maximizes racial divisions and polarization in Texas by dividing the state primarily into Anglo-dominated Republican districts and a relatively few heavily minority Democratic districts. As a result, the Texas congressional delegate now consists of 21 Anglo Republicans, 9 Hispanic or black Democrats, and only 2 remaining Anglo Democrats. It eliminates both competitive districts and districts that would encourage coalition-building between Anglos and minorities. The plan represents a grim future for Texas and for the nation if the DeLay approach to redistricting became a model for other states.
Nearly as disturbing as the deliberate minority disenfranchisement, is the fact that, if Democrats were in the majority in the U.S. Congress right now, there would be dozens of full committee and subcommittees headed by minorities, blacks or Hispanics. And that’s the basis of significant power within Congress. Under Republican control of Congress, there are no blacks and very few Hispanics. It’s what one observer called a “peculiar apartheid.”
KARYN STRICKLER, an activist and freelance writer. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .