I have been following the Texas redistricting lawsuit quite closely and I’m appalled every time I read a new article by a national publication that doesn’t contain a quote from an elected official who occupies an African-American opportunity district. The general public would naturally believe that because the Democratic Party is arguing the case for the Voting Rights Act that it is carrying the water for its African-American base, but this is not necessarily the case. I don’t blame the media in this case, but those who represent the silent minority, with the understanding that they do see this as a serious issue but for various reasons lack a consensus to take a particular public position.
I feel privileged to have a close enough relationship to members and other significant players to get the inside perspective and legal arguments that are being shaped and therefore will err on the side of not divulging sensitive information of the pending cases. But I think it’s safe to say that this will be a landmark ruling on how the courts view protections afforded to “protected classes” under the Voting Rights Act. The main issue at hand is the effect of replacing “African-American opportunity districts” with “minority opportunity districts.” If the Voting Rights Act was passed to grant African-Americans, as well as other individual minority groups, the ability to “elect representatives of their choice,” what happens when, say, a historically African-American district becomes a majority non-African-American minority district? This is the inevitable case for African-American representatives – especially in Texas. Will the future see all non-Anglos packed into “minority” districts without regard to any particular minority’s ability to elect a representative of their choice, be they black, Hispanic or Asian? It appears if the Texas attorney general gets his way, this will be the effect. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Austin Tuesday expressed concern over a couple of issues regarding minority voting rights. He warned that voter identification laws may not pass muster and that Hispanic growth must be properly recognized by any new maps, but to my knowledge made no reference to how African-Americans specifically may be affected.
The worst thing that could happen may not be African-Americans losing their protected status, but that African-American and Hispanic leaders allow the Republican Party to systematically make electing candidates more difficult for their constituencies while exploiting a wedge between these two groups – who despite deserving their own individual protections, are still stronger when they act together.
Deshotel, political director for Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, is a managing member of the public relations firm BGP Strategies. He has more than a decade’s experience in Texas politics.