Federal Court Considers Changing Texas Political Boundaries
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To Texas now and an important political gerrymandering case that begins today in federal court in San Antonio. The case involves the maps that determine how Texans are grouped into districts when they vote for both state and federal elections. The question is whether the current maps discriminate against the state's fast-growing Hispanic population. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is here to explain the case to us. Good morning, Wade.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Good morning.
KELLY: Give us the back story here. This all started back in 2011, I gather.
GOODWYN: Yeah, it's been a long case.
KELLY: Long haul.
GOODWYN: This case is about charges of racial gerrymandering, pure and simple. The Hispanic population has been exploding all across the state. But after these maps were drawn by Republicans, their opportunity to elect representatives actually was diminished. It was quite a sophisticated and, at times, cynical map-drawing operation. Emails in the court case revealed Republican operatives were trying to achieve districts that had what they called optimal Hispanic Republican voting strength. That was the phrase.
And what it meant was GOP map drawers should try to create districts that looked Hispanic, but nevertheless, they would still be dominated by Republican candidates. And in another email, a San Antonio Republican House member wrote this. There's one area which includes two condo buildings with many GOP supporters and the San Antonio Country Club adjacent to my district; I would really like to get that.
And here, we have a rather naked example of politicians choosing their voters, choosing their voters down to the level of condo buildings and country clubs. And this question in a democracy - who should get to make this choice, the voters or the politicians, that cuts to the heart of these gerrymandering cases all around the country.
KELLY: You're talking about GOP map drawers here. Are we only talking about Republican gerrymandering?
GOODWYN: No, it's mostly about Republican gerrymandering, but there's one part of the case that involved a white Democratic state House representative from Fort Worth, I think. And he was also afraid of the growing Hispanic population in his district, afraid an Hispanic Democrat would run against him and beat him in the primary. So he asked the Legislature that his district be redrawn, make it less Hispanic, and they did - the power of the incumbency in all it's not-so-glorious display.
GOODWYN: But it was in vain. The white Democrat did eventually get beat by a Hispanic Democrat in the 2014 primary. So I think the moral of the story is sometimes, demography is destiny, gerrymander though you might.
KELLY: Well, let me ask you about one of the intriguing aspects here. This case is being heard by three judges, a federal panel, all this week. They are looking at the maps that these same three judges drew back in 2013 in an attempt to make things fair. So is what's happening this week judges are going to be judging their own maps?
GOODWYN: It is bizarre. The question is that these judges, these - drew the maps. They tried to fix the discrimination problem that they felt the case might reveal based on the evidence they had before them. So the question now is, did these maps really fix the discrimination problem the Republicans created with their original maps back in 2011? And from their recently published findings of fact, it appears the federal panel is inclined to think more map fixing may need to be done.
KELLY: Wade, real quick - how might this case change the balance of partisan power in Texas?
GOODWYN: It would affect it, but it wouldn't change it. Texas is a Republican juggernaut. Even if the maps are drawn more fairly, Texas is solid Republican for now and for the foreseeable future.
KELLY: All right, Wade, thanks very much.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
KELLY: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn reporting.
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