Glimmers of the tension that many expect will characterize next year’s redistricting battle in Austin were on display Monday at a hearing in Dallas.
A House and Senate committee are jointly holding three hearings on redistricting in North Texas this week. Monday’s hearing was in downtown Dallas. A hearing on Tuesday will be in Arlington, followed by a Wednesday event in Richardson.
The meeting started at noon with an argument about the location.
State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who sits on the House Redistricting committee, expressed concern that the meeting was being held in downtown Dallas, where no free parking is available. He said future hearings should be held at places easier for citizens to access and where parking didn’t “cost you an arm and a leg.”
That prompted a defense of the location from state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, whose district included the courthouse where the meeting was held. Branch said the location was “very convenient” and that there were numerous parking lots nearby.
“Welcome to downtown Dallas and urban America,” Branch said. “We do have to park our chariots.”
For the next two hours, lawmakers heard from more than a dozen witnesses on what next year’s redistricting process should and shouldn’t entail. Two recurring messages from several of those testifying was that minorities are the reason for the state’s phenomenal growth and that they deserved to have a strong voice at the ballot box.
“Dallas County is a majority county of minorities,” Dallas County Judge John Wiley Price said. “We know what the numbers are. It’s going to be incumbent upon this body to try and do the right thing.”
A few witnesses from nearby suburban and rural counties urged lawmakers to preserve the state’s Republican strongholds.
David Smith of Lewisville described Denton as “the reddest county in the reddest state.” “We’d like to maintain that and see that the rest of the Republican Party gets a fair share of the seats in the House and the Senate,” Smith said.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, sent her district director, Charles Boswell, to read a letter on her behalf. In it, she encouraged lawmakers to protect voters' rights and mentioned how she wanted her own district to look after redistricting.
In order to preserve the voting power of communities in Fort Worth and Arlington, Davis wrote, “it is particularly important that Senate District 10 be contained entirely within the borders of Tarrant County and that it include minority communities in Southeast Fort Worth, the Latino north side of Fort Worth, and core neighborhoods in Arlington.”
Branch said that several speakers seemed to be blaming Republicans for decades of minority disenfranchisement in the state even though Democrats controlled every recent round of redistricting except the last one.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, responded. “Somebody’s got to start doing the right thing some time."