Home » Uncategorized » Of Dragons, Dogs Wearing Antlers, and Texas Redistricting

Of Dragons, Dogs Wearing Antlers, and Texas Redistricting

The title is a reference to descriptions by the Austin American-Statesman’s Ken Herman of his favorite bits of testimony from the recently concluded first phase of the redistricting hearings going on in San Antonio. In his Sunday op-ed piece (behind the paywall at www.mystateman.com), Herman compares the evergreen demand for redistricting litigators to the evergreen demand for tattoo removers, because (in a nice turn of phrase), people often get tired of the lines drawn on them.

Mr. Herman was in a particularly folksy mood when he wrote this piece, to the point where he is almost frustratingly oblique about the specifics of the current litigation. That’s fine – he’s not trying to do straight reporting. But given the limited press coverage of the testimony offered, it might have been nice if he had provided a slightly more grounded piece than something which more or less reads as, “Lawyers Say the Darnedest Things!”

As a backgrounder on the suit, the opinion piece is somewhat biased, relying on the narrative that when the Democratic Party was effectively the sole party in Texas, the Legislature was free to use redistricting to ensure that the Democrats would stay in power, but when the Republican Party tries to do the same thing, the Republicans aren’t given as much room to maneuver.

What the Repubs did was discriminate on the basis of party, which is kind of what they’re supposed to do. There are rules and laws about that, but there are even tighter rules against discriminating based on race. And it just so happens that an overwhelming majority of Hispanics and African-Americans vote Democratic. So by bank shot if nothing else, discriminating against Democrats often equals discrimination against Hispanics and African-Americans.

So the fact may be that the GOP, when it’s running the show, has less freedom to mess with Dems than when it’s the other way around.

Herman, Ken, “Redistricting carousel a ride the never stops” Austin American-Statesman (July 27, 2014, p. E3).

This is followed by a statement that might draw a few angry letters to the editor.

That’s because Repubs tend to be white. There’s nothing wrong with white people as a group, but there are fewer laws protecting them in such matters.

Id.

Mr. Herman then goes on to say that for some attorneys, the motive behind redistricting doesn’t matter, but merely whether or not a change in boundaries has diluted the voting strength of minority voters, and that it was the racial discrimination practiced by the racist Southern Democrats that compelled the need for protective laws in the first place.

In other words, Mr. Herman is making the defendants’ case to the public, since the court would likely only impose Department of Justice oversight with respect to voting upon a legal determination that the 2011 redistricting plan amounted to intentional discrimination (per Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act).

But his “aw shucks, I’m just a simple newspaperman telling it like I see it” tone is misleading. He neglects to mention that a significant part of the state’s growth in population came from minority voting populations, but that the added U.S. Congressional seats were disproportionately distributed to conservative white populations. In the course of failing to actually describe any of the litigation, he also neglects to mention the specific strategy used by the GOP to reapportion the growing population.

When initiating the redistricting process in 2011, the Republicans could have written to the Texas Legislative Council (the technical wonks who maintain the software, maps, and demographic information used in redistricting), and asked, “Dear Legislative Council. Please show us where the Democrats and Republicans in Texas are located, so that we can draw safe Republican districts.”

Instead, the Republicans asked the Texas Legislative Council to figure out where the non-voting Hispanics lived, so that those Hispanics could safely be split off from existing districts and added to newly created Republican districts, giving the new districts the appearance of being “minority-opportunity” districts without actually being “minority opportunity” districts. The whole focus wasn’t on the party identification of the voters, but on the race of the voting-age inhabitants.

In other words, the Republican strategy relied on intentionally diluting minority voting strength. The question for the court is whether such a strategy constituted intentional discrimination on the basis of race.

Mr. Herman is a good writer, and I’ve enjoyed his rambling op-eds. But his thoughts on redistricting frustrate me, in that (1) he is dismissive of the whole redistricting process as make-work for lawyers; (2) he views the 2011 redistricting plan as something that, if it did do anything wrong,  probably only diluted minority voting strength by accident, and (3) he managed to get about 40 column inches of copy with highlights about tattoo removal, the funny animal shapes that redistricting makes, and the goofy things that lawyers and legislators say when defusing the tension of redistricting fights. But he left out the Voting Rights Act, the Shelby County decision, the changing demographics of the state, and that the Federal District Court in D.C. had already determined that the 2011 Texas Congressional and state House redistricting plans could not be cleared for implementation because they violated the Voting Rights Act.

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