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The Other Dissent on the State House Map

» Chron: African-American lawmakers don’t like legislative maps

The local African-American State Rep delegation doesn’t seem happy with their districts …

At a news conference at the Julia C. Hester House in Fifth Ward, Turner noted that he and his fellow lawmakers – Reps. Borris Miles, Harold Dutton, Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson – had no objections to maps drawn for the state Senate and for Congress.

They objected to the House map, he said, after an analysis of the numbers led them to believe that predominantly African-American districts in Harris and Dallas counties were being diluted and historic communities of interest were being divided.

This has come up since the lines started getting drawn in the Lege. The core of it is that anytime you show a district that has a high-30s for African-American population share and a low-40s for Hispanic population share, you’re almost guaranteed to get one frantic incumbent from the African-American delegation crying over it. And given the way demographics have unfolded in the past decade, it’s increasingly common. Barbara Mallory Caraway, for instance, made an issue of her HD110 being drawn at one point to be 39.6% Afr-Am and 50.7% Hispanic.

Now that the politicians have been removed from the process, the districts aren’t quite to their liking. Here’s one instance, with what is apparently now MY State Rep district:

Rep. Borris Miles, who represents House District 146, said that he will lose 60 percent of his African-American district. “They split Sunnyside right in half,” he said. “It’s obvious to me that the three court judges did not know what they were doing when they came in and drew these new lines.”

As luck would have it, Borris gave his nickel version of this complaint at the same Meyerland Dems meeting where I was invited to speak at. He talked briefly about the numbers in the new district, as proposed by the San Antonio court: 41.6% Hispanic and 41.5% Afr-Am. He pointed to Gulfton in the district and said while he knew he could win the district because Gulfton had a lot of “non-voters”, he said his concern was for the person who came after him … or after the “sleeping giant” of Hispanic voters finally woke up.

I like Borris. I’m proud to have been a part of the team that got him elected in 2006. I’m looking forward to giving him all sorts of grief as my State Rep starting in January 2013. But he’s flat out wrong on this. The reason should be obvious if you’ve read more than a handful of posts here during the past year. It’s not that Gulfton has a lot of “non-voters” who might “wake up” and finally start voting. It’s that Gulfton has a lot of non-citizens. Who can’t vote. Period. In fact, by the time, you get to viewing the district’s Citizen Voting Age composition, it turns out that HD146 is 55% African-American. That’s better than HD131 and HD147, both of which are over 50% as well.

Another part of the complaint with the drawing on the south side is that Sunnyside is carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. What’s odd about this being a complaint from Borris is that he’s not won Sunnyside once in the three times he’s been on the ballot. Shedding a bit of Sunnyside might not be the worst thing in the world for him. There’s also the fact that the other two Afr-Am State Reps in the area reside in adjoining precincts to HD146 – Coleman to the north, Allen to the south. So if the concern is keeping Sunnyside whole, someone would likely have to be drawn out of their district. I’m fairly certain that there are no volunteers for this.

Where there is something of a complaint is the manner in which Garnet Coleman’s new district would take in parts of the Fifth Ward in order to bolster the Afr-Am numbers in a sixth such district in the county. The current HD147 picks up a fair amount of Montrose, but doesn’t go significantly north of Washington Ave and downtown at it’s northern-most border. Here’s the new northern wing of HD147:

The challenge that both creates and vexes all at the same time is that if you were to simply calculate the number of districts in the county that the Afr-Am population would warrant based on total population, it comes to 4 districts (24 total districts x 18.4% population share = 4.4). At a Citizen Voting Age Population level, it comes to 5 districts (24 x 21.9% = 5.3). There are, at present, six African-American districts electing African-American State Representatives. In order to sustain that, either one district has to be made as thin as possible, or a district has to go. Again, volunteers seem to be at a premium.

The math for sustaining six African-American districts will get thinner and thinner each decade. But the districts won’t hit a tipping point for Hispanic electoral viability this decade … and likely not even by the end of the decade to follow, barring some more dramatic demographic shifts among the African-American population.

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