It’s a rare day that I defend the Republican Party of Texas against attack, but today looks like it’s going to be that day. In an article published by The Hill, a former staffer for the Democratic Party in Texas paints the state’s current process of finalizing its redistricting map as “an aggressive attack against voting rights” led by an angry Attorney General Greg Abbott and terrified Gov. Rick Perry. But that’s really just not what’s happening.
The lines aren’t actually being redrawn at all. Last August, a federal court threw out the original maps drawn after the 2010 census because of their obvious attempt to stifle the voices of minorities. The same court redrew new maps to conform with the Voting Rights Act, and Texas is simply voting to make those maps permanent — something that the article doesn’t mention at all. The author even gives a shout-out to the Supreme Court saying that what Texas is doing justifies the existence of the VRA — even though the maps he's criticizing were drawn by a federal court to be in compliance with the that law.
For what it’s worth, the maps certainly aren’t perfect. Even with minorities in mind, the court did not truly recognize the stunning amount of minority growth, but these maps are leaps and bounds better than the maps drawn by Republicans in 2011, and ratifying them is certainly not “an aggressive attack” on the voices of minorities. If anything, it’s an incredibly passive attempt at peace.
Originally, the Texas legislature finished out this legislative session without even addressing the idea of redrawing the lines, and Perry had to call a special session to get the work done. While this special session should be the perfect time for Texas to truly push for the voices of minorities, this is just the easy way out — but for a party that has previously done all they can to rob minorities and Democrats of their voting rights, any progress is good progress.
Right now, if Republicans were to try to take scissors and glue to the existing maps, they would risk getting the maps thrown out again, which would wreak havoc on political timing and elections just like it did when the court threw out the maps last August. So politically, it would be unwise for Republicans to overtly suppress minority voting power.
What we really need to be worried about will come after this legislative session, when Republicans could continue their charge to push the maps in their direction. Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has already said the possibility for Republicans to do more later is completely on the table. However, that threat is not now and the “aggressive” attacks will come through the courts, not the legislature.
"Our adopting the three maps doesn't foreclose the Republicans to file suit and ask for improvements in the maps, or the Democrats to file suit and ask for improvements. It doesn't foreclose either of those two options,” Dewhurst said.
While the Texas GOP has certainly limited the voices of Hispanic and black voters in the past and may do so again in the future, it is unwise to cry wolf at every stopping point. Eventually, people will stop listening to you, and then they won’t take you as seriously when the problem is really screaming in your face. Let’s save accusations until the GOP really does something flagrantly wrong.