MALDEF congressional plans seek greater Latino representation; easier said than done
Sat April 9, 2011 11:14 pm

MALDEF filed two congressional redistricting plans last week.  The Latino advocacy organization also issued a statement Thursday arguing for more Latino representation. A key excerpt:

The maps presented today demonstrate that additional Latino-majority congressional districts can and should be created to provide a fair opportunity to Latino voters, stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Director of Litigation. Latinos composed 65% of the state’s growth over the past decade and at least two Latino majority congressional districts are required under the federal Voting Rights Act….

The U.S. Census reported that in 2010 there were 9,460,921 Latinos living in Texas. These plans are a crtical recognition of that fact. The plans create a new congressional district based in Hidalgo and Starr Counties in the Rio Grande Valley, representing thirty-three percent of Dallas and Tarrant County residents. Yet there are currently no majority Latino congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. These plans will afford Latinos the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate in the North Texas region.

Similarly, the plans propose the creation of a new majority Latino congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There are more than 1.3 million Latinos in that area, representing thirty three percent of Dallas and Tarrant County residents. Yet there are currently no majority Latino congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. These plans will afford Latinos the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate in the North Texas region.

The maps presented today demonstrate that additional Latino-majority congressional districts can and should be created to provide a fair opportunity to Latino voters….

Similarly, the plans propose the creation of a new majority Latino congressional district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. These plans will afford Latinos the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate in the North Texas Region.

MALDEF’s Plan 108 C does not materially change District 23, a sprawling district that includes two big chunks of Bexar County, one on the north side, one on the south, and encompasses all of West Texas between I-10 and the Rio Grande, including the eastern third of El Paso County. District 23 has an interesting history. It was previously represented by Republican Henry Bonilla prior to the 2003 mid-census redistricting. To improve Bonilla’s position, the Legislature decided it could split Webb County, but the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Legislature couldn’t. In a 2006 special election, when Republicans were at a low ebb nationally and in Texas, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez defeated Bonilla in the redrawn district, which no longer included Webb County. But Republican Francisco Canseco defeated Rodriguez in 2010. I don’t see much of a change here. Most of the Bexar County part of the district lies outside of Loop 410 on the north, west, and south.

The other district in Plan 108C is the new 35th district, one of the four new seats that Texas is scheduled to get. This is one strange-looking district. It looks like a man wearing a top hat, who is operating a front-end loader, with a wheelbarrow hooked on the rear.

The district is a case study of why it is hard to draw a Latino district. The population is too scattered and the geometry of the district looks like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that fell out of the box. The MALDEF plan draws the district east and west along I-30, starting on the east at I-2o near Mesquite and Balch Springs. As the lines go west, the district is pulled spaghetti-thin in places. At the big highway interchange south of downtown Dallas, the district widens and turns onto a north-south axis to follow I-35E up to Farmer’s Branch. This includes a lot of Anchia’s current legislative district. Back on I-30, the bottom of the district resumes its westward course into Tarrant County. This is where it gets really thin, as it goes through Grand Prairie and Arlington. It connects with the western end of the front-end loader at the big highway intercharge south of downtown Fort Worth on I-35W.

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A legal objection to the proposed CD-35 would be that the district is not compact and contiguous. This requirement is more often honored in the breach than the observance. However, I came across an interesting paper on the subject, a small portion of which I will share with readers:

Tobler’s Law, Urbanization, and Electoral Bias: Why Compact, Contiguous Districts are Bad for the Democrats

When one of the major parties in the United States wins a substantially larger share of the seats than its vote share would seem to warrant, the conventional explanation lies in manipulation of maps by the party that controls the redistricting process. Yet this paper uses a unique data set from Florida to demonstrate a common mechanism through which substantial partisan bias can emerge purely from residential patterns. When partisan preferences are spatially dependent and partisanship is highly correlated with population density, any districting scheme that generates relatively compact, contiguous districts will tend to produce bias against the urban party. In order to demonstrate this empirically, we

…apply automated districting algorithms driven solely by compactness and contiguity parameters, building winner-take-all districts out of the precinct-level results of the tied Florida presidential election of 2000. The simulation results demonstrate that with 50 percent of the votes statewide, the Republicans can expect to win around 59 percent of the seats without any “intentional” gerrymandering. This is because urban districts tend to be homogeneous and Democratic while suburban and rural districts tend to be moderately Republican. Thus in Florida and other states where Democrats are highly concentrated in cities, the seemingly apolitical practice of requiring compact, contiguous districts will produce systematic pro-Republican electoral bias.

If we apply this knowledge to the proposed District 35, we can see the results. It is very difficult to give Democrats – let’s overlook for the moment that not all Latinos are Democrats and not all residents of Latino neighborhoods are Latinos – their fair share of representation because they are highly concentrated. If Republican areas are drawn to be compact and contiguous and the population is more heterogeneous, Republican districts are easy to draw, while, as we see with the proposed Metroplex district in MALDEF’s Plan 108C, Latino districts must twist and turn into every nook and cranny of the city in order to sweep up every possible voter into a community of interest. Even then, the mapmakers have to assume that Latino voters in Mesquite, Dallas County, have the same interests and concerns as Latino voters in Arlington and Fort Worth.

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More on Plan 108C:

The new map eviscerates District 28, currently represented by Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

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