Democrats to meet with Justice over remapping

By Maria Recio
Published October 29th 2003 in Star-Telegram

WASHINGTON - Texas Democrats will meet with Justice Department officials over the next three days to make their case that the state's new congressional redistricting map diminishes minority representation and should not be approved under the Voting Rights Act.

All 17 Democratic congressmen and women from Texas will visit Justice Department officials today and Thursday to argue against clearing the map. State lawmakers and advocacy groups are expected to meet with Justice officials reviewing the map Thursday and Friday.

The federal officials have 60 days from Oct. 16, the day Attorney General Greg Abbott submitted the hard-fought plan, to approve it, reject it or ask for additional data.

For Democrats, the Justice Department forum is another opportunity to criticize the plan crafted by Republicans to defeat as many as seven Democratic incumbents.

"In this case, the Republicans don't care and can't count," said Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Arlington, whose district is split five ways under the plan. "They destroy a minority district and lie about it. We have 11 minority opportunity districts now and their plan only has 10. It is really simple math that they can't get around."

Frost and other members from minority districts are scheduled to meet with Justice officials today.

Republicans maintain that the redistricting plan will increase minority voters' representation by creating districts that elect more African-Americans and Hispanics.

Angela Hale, Abbott's spokeswoman, said the attorney general is confident that the map satisfies the Voting Rights Act and that the courts will uphold it.

Legal scholars predicted that the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft will clear the plan.

"The Ashcroft Justice Department has pre-cleared every redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act," said Nathaniel Persily, an election expert at the University of Pennsylvania law school. "There is no reason to think they're not going to pre-clear Texas' plan."

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and an outspoken critic of the mid-decade redistricting effort, said he intends to bring his concerns to the Justice Department, probably Thursday.

"I want the Justice Department to understand that this map does not create any additional minority-impact districts," Coleman said. "In my area, Houston, Congressman [Chris] Bell's district is already majority-minority."

State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, said: "I want to register my complaints about what they've done not only to Central Texas, where they put downtown Austin into a district that runs all the way down to Starr County on the Rio Grande, but to all of Texas.

"They've ripped up communities of interest harum-scarum just to benefit Republicans," said Barrientos, who nonetheless said he will run for Congress in the new district if it is upheld by the courts. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has said he will run in the new district.

John Moritz of the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau Contributed to This Report.