As Texas draws its cards, Latinos push for political power – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth


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As Dallas County Commissioner, Elba Garcia represents some 670,000 people, almost the population of a congressional district. The majority of its constituents are Latinos and live in the rapidly growing suburbs west of Dallas, where they share concerns about managing growth, schools and access to health care.

Garcia is the region’s voice on the committee, but his constituents don’t have such a clear representation in Congress. The area is divided among three members of the House, according to boundaries drawn by Republican lawmakers 10 years ago. None are Latino.

Garcia said the impact of the divisions is clear: “Everyone is cut up and dispersed,” she said. “They dilute the Latin vote.”

Texas will begin redrawing those congressional lines this week, and Latino advocates and officials say it’s time to right the wrongs of the past. The state’s explosive population growth over the past decade – half of which has come from Latinos – has earned it two new seats in Congress. At least one should be a Latin American majority congressional seat in the Dallas area, they argue.

The push is part of a nationwide campaign that intensifies as states plunge into a once-per-decade redistribution struggle that could determine control of the House of Representatives. While the battle is expected to be the fiercest in Texas, Latino advocacy groups are already rolling out across the country, working in Arizona, Colorado and Texas with a clear message: Latinos have made up just over half of all of the population growth of the United States over the past decade. , and it is time for the political system to pay attention.

While Latinos don’t vote like a monolith, they lean heavily toward Democrats in Texas and across the country. Advocates argue that district lines should not dull their power.

“At the end of the day, it’s about giving Latinos a fair opportunity to choose their representatives,” said Dorian Caal of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. “We are all better off when a community can choose someone it prefers.”

But the tactic of “packing and cracking” racial and ethnic groups has a long history. In every decade since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, courts or the Department of Justice have ruled that Texas redistribution plans violate federal laws – in part by dispersing Latino voters from Democratic trend among several districts dominated by white non-Latino residents. which leans republican.

This year there will be less federal oversight. For the first time in decades, the state does not need Justice Department approval before adopting its plans, due to a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court by majority conservative.

Using census data released last month, advocates say they see a handful of places ripe for new predominantly Latin American congressional districts. In Florida, which is adding a new seat, some are pushing for a new neighborhood south of Orlando, where an influx of Puerto Ricans has led to a population boom.

In Colorado, another fast-growing state winning a seat, some supporters see a way to lure a predominantly Latino neighborhood into the state’s urban core, but only by splitting Denver in half and merging it with various suburbs. relatives. The first drafts of maps drawn by a non-partisan commission kept Denver in the same district.

Then there’s Texas, which is home to more Latinos than any other state outside of California. Republicans have repeatedly used partisan gerrymandering – drawing districts to favor the ruling party – to cement control of the state legislature and seats in Congress.

The lines have helped the GOP-controlled legislature adopt an ambitious Conservative agenda, even as the electorate becomes more democratic. And these lawmakers have shown their willingness to test how far they can go without the “pre-authorization” requirement of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this month, they passed sweeping legislation erecting new barriers to voting, despite objections from civil rights groups and minority Democrats.

This has left many deeply skeptical that the Republican-controlled Texas legislature will draw a fair game without court intervention.

“They are afraid of losing their power,” said Lydia Camarillo, whose Texas Redistricting Task Force was one of the groups that sued Texas to block their 2011 redistricting plan on the basis of racial discrimination.

Texas Republicans insist they are trying to be fair. “This process is under a microscope both for potential litigation and to ensure that we have effective representation,” said State Representative Jim Murphy, chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus, adding that he wanted ensure that “every community is represented.”

There are many crossed political currents at play. The growth of the state is concentrated in various urban and suburban areas which turn against the Republicans, pressuring the GOP to use the redistribution to consolidate its own districts.

At the same time, the party did relatively well with Latino voters in last year’s presidential election. Former President Donald Trump won 37% of Latinos in Texas, while President Joe Biden was supported by 62%, similar to the national division, according to AP VoteCast, a poll of the electorate. Trump was helped by strong support in the heavily Latino counties of the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
National Republicans have been considering creating a new predominantly Latino congressional district in this part of the state, which would likely be Republican. The region is currently divided into three predominantly Latino seats, all represented by Latino Democrats.

Some Latino advocates expect more success at the local level. It may be easier to attract a multitude of new local and national districts dominated by Latino voters, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We will see a lot of very first in city council, ‘the first ever in school council’,” Saenz said of the upcoming election. “The hope is that you are creating a pipeline of leaders who can stand up and represent even an area without a Latino majority.”

It’s not always the Republicans who stand in the way, Saenz notes. In Illinois, for example, Democrats proposed a map that would redraw the boundaries of a majority Latino state Senate seat in the Chicago area in order to protect the white incumbent.

Redistribution is not the only factor diluting the political power of Latinos. Almost 70% of Latinos live in just five states: California, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas. About half of Latinos are not eligible to vote because they are not citizens or are under 18. With 1 in 4 children in the Latino country, a large part of the population cannot yet mark a ballot.

Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who chairs a group trying to elect more Latino Democrats, says there is an advantage for Hispanic communities in being able to select representatives who have similar life experiences, such as living in multigenerational households during the pandemic. “Sometimes the only people who think about these issues are the Latino politicians who represent these districts,” said Gallego.

In Dallas, Cristina Garrido, organizer of the Latin group Jolt Action, says that when speaking to Hispanic youth in her community, she often encounters cynicism and apathy, the feeling that “whatever happens is going to happen and they don’t really have a voice. “

She fears that the work of redistributing legislators will make it worse.

“The danger is that if we see negative consequences with the redistribution, people are going to feel increasingly disenfranchised and simply not encouraged to vote,” said Garrido.

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