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Three-judge panel plans to redraw Texas Congressional maps

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Congressman Lloyd Doggett was front and center during a review of options for the Texas Congressional map before a federal three-judge panel in San Antonio on Monday.

 

The trio of jurists has announced they intend to draw interim maps for Congress, House and Senate in coming weeks. The effort likely will push back the opening of primary filing to sometime after the currently slated date of Nov. 12, possibly as late as Dec. 1. Scenarios presented suggested filing might close around Dec. 15, cutting the length of the filing period almost in half under direction from the court.

 

As to the maps themselves, Doggett already had begun campaigning in San Antonio as if he intends to run in the proposed Congressional District 35 as approved by lawmakers in June. If that is the case, incumbent Doggett would face State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) in the Democratic primary in the spring.

 

The federal three-judge panel, which could choose to stick close to the state-drawn map or draw its own version from scratch, will consider seven Congressional map proposals by various interested parties this week. Some options would treat Doggett more favorably (LULAC, Travis County and NAACP) with a district anchored in Travis County and others less favorably (Mexican-American Legislative Caucus – or MALC – and Latino Task Force) with plans that split key parts of the county.

 

Doggett was especially critical of the proposed MALC map, which wraps around Travis County to pick up portions of Williamson County.

 

“Adding 250,000 from Williamson County is pretty outrageous,” Doggett said. “As it’s currently drawn, the district is pretty compact. It keeps Williamson County together. There’s no good reason why you need to move those voters.”

 

In return, Latino Task Force attorney Nina Perales was somewhat tepid about maintaining a coalition district of white-black-brown voters in Travis County that would tend to elect Doggett. Perales’ own choice under the task force plan would be to create a district that joined southeast Bexar County with southeast Austin, which she called more logical than creating a Congressional district that would stretch from Travis County to Starr County in South Texas.

 

The conflict between Doggett and his potential Democratic opponent Castro has burned somewhat hot in recent weeks. Castro, however, was at Monday’s hearing and said he was hopeful the map could be resolved to support both of them.

 

“I’m hopeful, as I think Congressman Doggett is, that they’ll restore his district and also keep a District 35 that’s anchored in San Antonio,” Castro said during a break in the hearing. “I think that makes the most sense.”

 

And, yes, just to complicate matters, it’s the MALC and MALDEF plans that do that.

 

Attorney Renea Hicks has yet to provide the full case for Travis County, although he did have the chance to put Congressman Charlie Gonzalez on the stand on Monday. NAACP, however, presented the testimony that favored Doggett’s case the most, putting Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) on the stand in support of a coalition district in Travis County rather than a Hispanic opportunity district.

 

The NAACP proposal includes a district anchored by Travis County east of Interstate 35. The district would pick up a sliver of Williamson County and a portion of Bastrop County, creating a majority minority district of 53 percent.

 

Gonzalez, in his testimony, presented a case that likely mirrors what Doggett might say about a district including both Travis County and Bexar County: stretching a district across the Austin-San Antonio corridor would create competing priorities for a Central Texas lawmaker.

 

For four decades, Congressional District 20 has represented the core of San Antonio, from its military bases to its downtown to its higher education institutions. To divvy those interests up among lawmakers only creates competing interests, Gonzalez said. Put Austin in the mix, and it would create a district where shared community is lost and priorities divided.

 

Testimony on proposed Congressional maps will continue Thursday, after a hearing before the District Court in Washington DC on pre-clearance issues. Judge Orlando Garcia urged the plaintiffs to come together between now and Thursday and agree, in part or whole, on changes to the map.

 

Democratic observers say such agreement will hinge on Hispanic groups agreeing to put an additional two minority opportunity districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Such an effort would balance the three minority districts in Houston against the one minority district in the North Texas area.

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