CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING COMES TO MCALLEN
The Jurisprudence Committee of the Texas Senate visited McAllen today, July 1, 2003, to listen to citizens' concerns about congressional redistricting proposals now before the legislature.
The topic proved to be as emotional in McAllen as it has been in other cities. Before the meeting began more than 300 members of the American G.I.. Forum and the United Farmworkers Union made it very clear to the senators that they are firmly against any change in the current congressional lines.
In their opening remarks, the senators said they were in McAllen to listen to the local people. Senator Royce West of Dallas told the witnesses that "the entire country is watching what is going on here in Texas."
Senator Chris Harris of Arlington announced that he has filed the current court ordered plan as one alternative to maps now under consideration in the House of Representatives. Senator Mario Gallegos of Houston cautioned the committee that if "any bill is introduced...that diluted a majority-minority district...we would probably get a Department of Justice objection." Senator Todd Staples of Palestine said this "is a process that works for all Texans...we are here today to listen to your concerns." Senator Kip Averitt of Waco said "what you tell the Senate today will be reflected in the decision-making process.
Congressman Reuben Hinojosa of Mercedes was the first witness, saying "the people select their representatives, not the other way around. (Under this proposal) current GOP representatives would be selecting their constituents, not the other way around". He called a plan he said was submitted by Congressional Majority Leader Tom DeLay "unconstitutional", saying the plan could cut the number of Texas minority representatives in Congress from eight to as few as two.
McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo told the committee that one plan puts parts of McAllen in the same district with Lockhart and parts of Austin. The mayor opposed this, saying that such maps clearly hurt his city, calling it "...criminal, to foreclose our representation like that is an insult to the Hispanic community."
State Representative Aaron Pena testified that "we have more in common with Northern Mexico than we do with Austin. When we see a district that takes us from the colonias of south Texas to there, we don't see any reason for it." He said the Legislature should be working on school finance problems, rather than redistricting.
Other local officials and residents mirrored those sentiments, saying that redistricting was unnecessary and simply diverted the legislature's attention from other more important issues.
But several public witnesses testified in favor of redistricting, saying that since more than half of all Texans voted Republican in the last election that more than half of the Congressmen should be Republican as well. Others said that redistricting should take place because Democrats had done little for Hidalgo County, of which McAllen is the largest city.
The Senate Committee on Jurisprudence continues its meetings on congressional redistricting Wednesday in Houston.