2020 Elections vital for Redistricting

 

For the next year or so, two very important things will be linked.

One is the decennial census – an effort to tabulate everyone living in this country in 2020. We'll deal in a coming column with efforts to make the census count as thorough as possible.

The other thing is redistricting – which happens every ten years, the year after the census. It provides the information to adjust boundaries of election districts for congress, the Texas House and Senate, and the State Board of Education.

The Texas House and Senate have appointed special committees on redistricting, to gather information, and citizen testimony, to supposedly let the lawmakers know what they ought to be doing.

One of the most thoughtful of those lawmakers is Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on the Senate's redistricting committee. He thanked Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for appointing him to the committee.

The committees will be holding public hearings around the state. Watson strongly encouraged Texans to be interested, and show up and talk about keeping the process fair.

The U.S. Supreme Court once enforced the Voting Rights Act, designed to assure that redistricting is not a discriminatory process.

But over the last decade, the changing court has basically gutted the act.

That includes the provision that states with a history of bias, including Texas, must have their maps and other election provisions "pre-cleared" by the Justice Department, or a three-judge Washington federal court, before they can go into effect.

The high court has undermined the process so much that it recently okayed partisan gerrymandering.

Watson says that is coupled with "an increasing desire by those in control of the Capitol to make it harder for people to participate in elections altogether."

Though Watson didn't specifically mention it in his recent newsletter, that voter suppression included the ham-handed effort by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's new secretary of state, David Whitley, to keep non-citizens from voting.

It blew up when it was discovered that thousands of those who were to be disqualified from voting because they were non-citizens actually had their citizenship.

The fiasco caused Whitley to lose his job when the Texas Senate refused to provide the two-thirds vote needed to confirm him.

Redistricting "is very important work," Watson said. "And it ought to be done fairly without becoming a partisan slugfest.

"(However), I’m not naïve. Sadly, it will be a partisan slugfest. It ought to be done straight up right. It won’t be. Let’s try though," Watson said.

"To have a shot at doing it right, we can’t rely on others to be our voice," Watson said. "We have to show up. We have to be heard now."

Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, says he won't seek re-election in 2020.

El Paso's senator since 2011, Jose Rodriguez, announced Friday ((9/13)) that he will leave the Senate when his term expires in January of 2021.

Rodriguez, 71, did not mention any specific reason for retiring, or future plans.

"I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history," Rodríguez said in a statement. "Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools."

The day before he confirmed his retirement plans, the Senate's Democratic Caucus had announced Rodriguez would step down as the group's chair at the end of this year. His replacement will be Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

Rodriguez has joined Democrats urging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session to deal with gun violence, after a gunman bent on killing Mexicans murdered 22 and injuring dozens more with an assault rifle at an El Paso Walmart Aug. 3.

Rodriguez referred to his time in the Senate as the "honor of a lifetime."

As for leaving the Senate, "We are in a time of change," said Rodriguez, who spent 17 years as El Paso County Attorney before succeeding Joe Christie in the Senate.

"A new generation of young leaders is emerging who will carry on the fight for equality and opportunity for all," Rodriguez said. "I look forward to supporting them in a different capacity."

El Paso state Rep. Cesar Blanco, is already working the phones gauging support for a possible run to succeed Rodriguez, the Texas Tribune reported.

On Friday, a national political group called the Latino Victory Fund, said it is starting a digital draft campaign website, RunCesarRun.org, to urge Blanco to seek the Senate seat.

In addition to El Paso County, the 29th District includes Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties, and 350 miles of the Texas border with Mexico.

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