by Dr. Reynaldo Guerra
On Wednesday night, Harris County hosted their second of four “public hearings” on their proposed redistricting map. I put quotes around public hearings for a reason. As a member of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition, I’ve testified and/or attended public hearings on redistricting for the City of Houston, the Texas House, the Texas Senate, and the US Congress; these are the first public hearings that I’ve been to where there is no forum for the audience to ask questions and get them answered. The community has an absolute right to participate in the redistricting process, but it seems like efforts are being made to put limitations on that right.
First Public Hearing
The first public hearing was on Monday, July 25, in Pasadena. There were well over 200 seats laid out and the room was over-capacity. The vast majority of those in attendance were Latino and opposed the County’s proposed map. Senator Mario Gallegos started the testimony off with a fiery speech denouncing the map, saying that it was full of the Christmas Turkey and that it insulated part of his community. Those testifying denounced the map passionately for numerous reasons. By my count, only four people spoke in support of the proposed map until a late surge of six, who said only “I support it,” with no supporting reasons why the map deserved their support.
Second Public Hearing
The second public hearing was last night at Harris County Precinct 1’s Cavalcade office. Attendance was well over-capacity again, but the hearing was in a much tighter room with only about 50 seats laid out. Precinct 1 is recognized as an African-American precinct, so the majority in attendance were African-American, while roughly 30-40% of the room was Latino.
By my count, slightly more people testified against the proposed map than in support of it. Greg Wythe has a slightly different count, but I counted a couple of neutrals. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of those speaking in favor of the map were African-American current or former elected officials. Representative Garnet Coleman did break away from the pack slightly in saying that the Precinct 2 needs to be drawn to represent Latinos. There were only a couple of actual community members that spoke in favor of the proposed map, and half of them were non-African-American.
Senator Gallegos, Representative Armando Walle, and former Houston City Council Member Felix Fraga all spoke against the map. Representative Walle’s testimony was particularly powerful, as he represents communities in both Precincts 1 and 2. He spoke to the dilution of Latino voting strength and to the splitting of communities that he represents, leaving some of the voting precincts that he represents on an ‘island.’ This is the breaking up, or cracking, of communities of interest argument, another violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Council Member Fraga gave a passionate speech on being happy that the African-American precinct remains in tact, that he hopes that nobody takes that away, but that he would hope that African-American community would help the Latino community.
A Couple of Thoughts.
It is significant that there was such a large showing of Latinos at the second public hearing. The Latino community is energized and well-informed on this issue and doesn’t seem to be backing down. The Department of Justice should have a lot of ammunition to shoot down the map when it comes into their cross hairs.
While Harris County’s proposed map eliminates the only Latino opportunity precinct on the Commissioners Court, it does a nice job of keeping in tact the African-American precinct. Per the Voting Rights Act, both the African-American and Latino communities are protected communities. So, a map that protects one community and not the other is a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act and, in my mind, unacceptable. Many older elected officials spoke last night of Blacks and Browns working together over the years so that both communities could have representation on the Commissioners Court. This was the key point of the night for me. The African-American and Latino communities are still under-represented all over the country. African-Americans and Latinos represent 18% and 41% of Harris County, respectively; That’s almost 60% of the County. Yet, if this maps passes, while one community will have maintained fair representation, their brother community will lose their opportunity for representation.
I’m hoping that both the African-American and Latino communities can continue to heed hard-fought lessons from the past, so that we can continue to work together, side-by-side, to advance both our communities. The fighting for crumbs on the table analogy has consistently been made with respect to Black-Brown politics. If we are not careful, posterity will use that analogy to characterize 2011 Harris County Redistricting. Let both communities not fight for crumbs on the table, but rather unite for proper representation for all. Why fight independently, even against each other, for our own individual precincts? Only by working together can we succeed in realizing the representation both communities so rightly deserve.
The final public hearing is on Monday. The Department of Justice wants to hear what you have to say; I hope to see you there,
|Monday, August 1, 2011
Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center
1414 Wirt Road
Houston, TX 77055