, Port Arthur, Texas

December 3, 2011

Texas needs better way to draw district lines

The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The squabble over Congressional and state House and Senate district maps continues even into the filing season for the March 6 Texas primary elections adding to the evidence that Texas needs a new, fair way to draw district lines.

Candidates are already filing for positions in the primaries but even at this late date there is a possibility the maps could be redrawn and the elections postponed possibly for months. The U.S. Supreme court should reject a request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot for the court to throw out maps drawn by a panel of federal judges in San Antonio and revert back to the highly partisan maps produced by the Texas Legislature.

We in the Golden Triangle know all too well how gerrymandering is used to slice and dice political districts to protect the party in power with little or no regard to how communities of common interest can be torn apart. We have seen Congressional districts that separate Jefferson from Orange counties and go up through Montgomery County and take a left hook into Houston to make sure traditionally Democrat voting Jefferson County could be outvoted. We have seen State Senate districts that put Port Arthur in one district and Beaumont in another to make sure Jefferson County didn’t have much say about what went on in Austin.

That may all be fine for party politics, and we learned that partisan reasons for drawing district boundaries were perfectly constitutional. But it is bad for governance and the practice of gerrymandering safe districts for incumbents has led to much of the polarization in politics today. While it may be constitutional to draw district lines to protect cronies, it is unconstitutional if those lines dilute the voting power of minorities. A federal court in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to hold a trial on whether the Texas Legislature’s Congressional map diluted the voting strength of minority voters. In the interim, the three-judge panel drew interim maps which are being used for the March 6 primaries. These are the maps that Attorney General Abbot wants thrown out.

We think the better course of action is to continue with the elections as scheduled with the maps prepared by the federal court and for the legislature to implement a bipartisan or non-partisan commission to conduct redistricting. Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has introduced legislation in every session for nearly two decades to create just such a commission in Texas and in each session his proposal has failed.

But until voters get more interested in electing people to office who will look beyond party to what is best for a region or the state, plans like Wentworth’s redistricting commission will continue to fail and partisan legislatures, both Democrat and Republican, will draw district lines that snake around to suit their purposes with no regard to the communities involved. As long as that is the situation, we will be forced to look to the courts to protect our constitutional voting rights.