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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - July 2011

For the first time since well before Lyndon Johnson represented Central Texas in the 1930s and ‘40s, Travis County may no longer have a member of Congress that we can call our own. The recently passed Congressional redistricting map would carve Travis County into five separate congressional districts which extends to Waco, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio. Central Austin neighborhoods in my constable precinct which have far more in common with each other than they do with other cities would be split into four congressional districts. My new district would actually repatriate me with the Houston district where I grew up. One block south of my house is a district that includes the University of Texas at Austin – and Fort Worth suburbs. The southern downtown part of my constable precinct and the far northern portion would be represented by two different Congressional districts that extend to northwest and northeast San Antonio.

In a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act and Constitutional rules, this redistricting map also segregates and dilutes minority populations by splitting them into districts in order to eliminate their impact. The historically African-American community would be included in the Fort Worth district with no hope of electing a minority candidate or any candidate of their preference. The historically Hispanic community would be separated for the first time from the African-American community and become a part of San Antonio also with little chance of electing anyone from Austin.

So why should this matter? After all, the Redistricting Committee chair suggested that Travis County with five congressional districts would actually have more clout in Congress than if represented by only two or three districts. He knows better because he chose not to adopt this unique theory of enhanced representation for any other Texas County. If this map goes into effect, Travis County would become the largest County in Texas not to have its own Congressional district or even a district with any more than 35% of a district’s population. Seven smaller counties including Williamson (with half our population) would each have districts that contain a majority of the district’s population.

This matters because politicians pay more attention to the areas with the most voters. Travis County would not be a high priority for any of the five representatives who would be more concerned with tending to the needs of counties with more voters. With no one in Congress primarily advocating for Travis County it would become harder for local governmental entities to access our share of federal funds or special considerations to support local projects or other needs. Worst of all, of course, is the way it treats minority voters and the tri-ethnic coalition that has long been a source of special local pride.

Because legal and effective congressional representation does matter, I have agreed to be a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit along with Travis County and the City of Austin. Carving Travis County up like a Thanksgiving turkey violates our rights by further diluting minority voting strength and denies the ability of a county with more than 1,000,000 citizens from being able to elect even one member of Congress. The courts have historically righted legislative wrongs so I am hopeful that they will reinstate our rights to vote for and elect candidates who best share our community interests.



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