Mike Kueber's Blog

August 13, 2015

Redistricting San Antonio

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:50 pm
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Yesterday morning, I attended a hearing on my lawsuit against the city of San Antonio – Kueber vs. City of San Antonio.  The lawsuit accuses the city of illegally redistricting the City Council following the 2010 census – i.e., the liberal City Council diluted the votes of Northsiders (conservatives) by packing an additional 55,000 people into the Northside districts.

The lawsuit was filed in state court, but the city removed it to federal court, claiming that the suit involved federal issues.  We argued that the dispute concerned language in the City Charter and had nothing to do with the Constitution, but the federal judge seemed disinclined to send it back to state court and suggested that we plan on the matter staying in front of him.

Although we thought the matter should have been heard by a Bexar County judge, who are mostly elected Republicans and therefore more sensitive to disenfranchised conservatives, the unelected federal judge David Ezra impressed us with knowledge of voting law.  Because the law is so favorable to us (we think), we think that having our case determined by someone with strong legal skills and an unbiased background augurs well for future success.

This matter has been dragging for months, and now it appears we may not get a decision until 2016.

June 9, 2015

One person, one vote – San Antonio

Filed under: Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:49 am
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When I was running for the San Antonio city council a couple of years ago, I discovered that the city had apparently violated the one-person, one-vote requirement in its Charter to the detriment of the Northside citizens when it redistricted following the 2010 census.  During the campaign I tried to make this a big issue because it exemplified how (a) minorities in San Antonio (Anglo northsiders) were being shortchanged by the majority (Hispanic south and westsiders), and (b) the city was becoming like a banana republic in its disregard for Charter constraints.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the resources to create a “big issue,” and the media was not interested.

After the election, I tried to get city officials to fix the redistricting, but the mayor and my councilman ignored me, and although the asst. city attorney admitted that the redistricting was problematic, she refused to do anything about it.  That left my only recourse a lawsuit.

For months, I procrastinated about filing the suit myself, but I wasn’t confident of my litigation skills, so I found a lawyer at my gym who was willing to take on the matter for a discounted fee.  I gave him the money a year ago, but because of numerous distractions he didn’t get around to filing the lawsuit in state court until a couple of months ago.  Then, just as we were preparing to filing a Motion for Summary Judgment, the City removed the lawsuit to federal court, probably because the vast majority of Bexar County judges are Republicans based in and sympathetic to the Northside.  The City might have also been concerned that a Republican judge would halt the current council/mayoral election.

In any event, we are now litigating to return the lawsuit to state court.  In my opinion, the city’s attempt to make a federal case out of this lawsuit is not only wrong, but also frivolous.

Time will tell.

March 15, 2013

San Antonio redistricting follow-up

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:11 pm
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A few weeks ago, I blogged about the travesty of justice inflicted on the Northside of San Antonio by the Castro City Council with the most recent redistricting.  Since that posting, I have stumbled across a provision in San Antonio’s Charter that appears to prohibit what happened, and this potentially provides an avenue for the Northside residents to seek redress. 

The provision – Article II, Section 4 – reads as follows: “The Councilmembers shall be elected from districts or wards which shall be drawn by ordinance and shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable.”  In spite of this specific guidance in the Charter, the Council provided significantly different guidance to the committee responsible for accomplishing the redistricting.  The Council guidance read as follows:

  • Districts shall be configured so that they are relatively equal in total population according to the 2010 Census. In no event should the total deviation in population between the largest and the smallest district exceed ten percent.”

Why would the Council say “relatively equal” and not to “exceed ten percent” when the Charter says “as nearly equal in population as practicable”?

A little internet research reveals that the both of these standards flow from the constitutional requirement for Equal Protection or the so-called “one-person, one vote” rule.  The Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) stated that the “overriding objective must be the substantial equality of population among the various districts,” and subsequent decisions have established that a variance of no greater than 10% for state legislatures would be presumed to comply with Equal Protection.   

But a different standard was established for congressional redistricting.  The Supreme Court in Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) held that with congressional redistricting, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.”  Subsequent decisions have established that under the “as nearly as is practical” standard even a 1% deviance between districts is impermissible.  That is why each of Texas’s 36 congressional districts has a population of 698,488, plus or minus 16 voters.  The smallest congressional district (#14) has 698,472 and the biggest district (#22) has 698,504.

A Loyola professor’s website encapsulates this distinction as follows:     

  • The standard for congressional districts is quite strict, with equal population required “as nearly as is practicable.” In practice, this means that states must make a good-faith effort to draw districts with exactly the same number of people in each district within the state. Any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the “ideal” population) must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a one percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional.
  • State and local legislative districts have a bit more flexibility; they have to be “substantially” equal. Over a series of cases, it has become accepted that a plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts are more than ten percent apart. This is not a hard line: a state plan may be upheld if there is a compelling reason for a larger disparity, and a state plan may be struck down if a smaller disparity is not justified by a good reason.
  • Some states hold their state districts to stricter population equality limits than the federal constitution requires.

Based on my reading of the San Antonio Charter, the city has committed itself to council districts of 132,672 (based on the city’s population of 1,326,721).  Instead the Council recently adopted redistricting with 139,227 residents in District 9 and 126,228 residents in District 3.  There’s an old saying about something being “close enough for government work,” but the Council redistricting appears in violation of the City’s Charter.

When I called the City Attorney’s Office for an explanation, its redistricting attorney told me that they have always done it that way, and no one has previously complained.  When she conferenced-in the city’s legal consultant in Austin, he admitted that the Charter language paralleled the language for the stricter congressional standard, but ultimately the Council is the final arbiter regarding what that language means. 

I’m not sure the consultant is correct.  Arbiters and rule of law don’t easily co-exist.

 

February 22, 2013

Disenfranchising Northside voters by Castro’s City Council

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:13 pm
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For the past couple of years, there has been a loud political battle over Voter ID laws, both in Texas and across America.  Republicans claim that a requirement for voters to provide a photo ID is a reasonable precaution against voter fraud.  Democrats counter that there is scant evidence of a voter-fraud problem and that the actual intent of Voter ID laws is to disenfranchise Democrats (and minorities), who are more likely to not have a photo ID.  Regardless of who is right, there is no question that any disenfranchisement related to Voter ID laws is miniscule compared to disenfranchisement of San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides by San Antonio’s version of Tammany Hall, the Hispanic-dominated political machine of the East, South, and West sides headed by Julian Castro.  

According to the 2010 U.S. census, San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, whose populations are between 21% and 56% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 741,000 residents while the Hispanic-dominated East, South, and West sides (Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, whose populations are between 3.98% and 19.81% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 585,000 residents.  Yet each area had five councilpersons.  What a travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle!  The extra 156,000 voters in the North and Northwest sides were essentially denied representation.  My District 8 in 2010 had 50% more residents (159,578) than District 5 (106,608) had, yet each had one councilperson.

Fortunately, this sort of travesty is supposed to end with a redistricting following each census.  San Antonio’s 2010 population of 1,326,721 means that each council district should have 132,672 residents.  (Although congressional redistricting requires that each district have almost exactly the same number of residents, cities are allowed by law to have a deviation of +5% or –5%.)  That sort of flexibility might make sense in the hands of a wise City Council, which could use the flexibility to create compact districts with communities of shared interest and easily identifiable geographic boundaries.  But this flexibility makes no sense when the Castro Council uses it to continue its outrageous disenfranchisement of the North and Northwest sides by massively diluting our votes. 

With the average council district supposed to have 132,672 residents, the heavy-handed Castro Council decided to re-populate Districts 1-5 with between 126,616 residents and 129,002, while Districts 6-10 will have between 134,410 and 139,227.  Thus, Districts 1-5 will have about 636,000 residents while District 6-10s will have about 691,000.  The difference between the most and least populated districts after redistricting is 9.8%, the most possible without breaking the law.  

Perhaps those of us who live in northern San Antonio should be happy that, instead of the 156,000 North and Northwest side residents disenfranchised in 2011, we will only have 55,000 disenfranchised in 2013.  Of course, that is based on the 2010 Census.  Everyone knows that all of San Antonio’s population growth continues in the North and Northwest sides and that the 2020 census will reveal a repeated travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle. 

A wise City Council would have set the populations for Districts 6-10 as slightly lower than Districts 1-5, knowing that population growth would reverse that status by 2020.  (Population growth in San Antonio has been to the North and Northwest for several decades.)  But apparently, we don’t have a wise City Council.  Instead we have a City Council where the Castro machine runs roughshod over the non-Hispanics on the North and Northwest sides.

When I called my councilperson Reed Williams to complain about this inequitable treatment of his district, he responded that there was not much he could do because “they have the votes.”  Well, that’s not what civil-rights advocates said in the early 60s when their voting rights were trampled on.  Instead of turning the other cheek, Williams should be raising hell on behalf of his constituents.    

Further evidence of this bigotry by the Castro Council was recently revealed when it adopted what the Express-News called “a race-conscious approach to awarding contracts put out for bid.”  Apparently, the city’s race-neutral program had resulted in too few contracts going to minorities and women.  Because there was no evidence of discrimination, the Council’s action revealed that it was more interested in equal results than in equal opportunity.  Under its new program, every bidder except white males will receive preferences.

Further evidence of Castro’s prejudice against the North and Northwest sides – in a column last month, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote that Castro admitted to him that an employer-incentive package was especially generous because the employer was locating on the South Side – “Are we doing a little more because it’s a South Side investment? Sure,” Castro said.  Why should the creation of jobs on the South Side be more valuable to San Antonio’s mayor than the creation of jobs on the North Side?   

I just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, so I’m especially sensitive to the issue of taxation without representation, and the supercilious attitude of Castro’s Council evokes a similar feeling.  Like the colonies, we are being treated by the crown as its personal ATM machine.  So, the next time you hear about the Republican Party trying to disenfranchise a few voters who don’t have photo IDs, tell them that the Republicans are small-time amateurs compared to the big-time professionals on Castro’s City Council.

The following is District populations before and after redistricting:

District            Before             After

1                      112,466           126,616

2                      123,727           129,002

3                      118,848           127,207

4                      123,256           126,702

5                      106,608           126,228

6                      152,661           134,410

7                      137,292           139,081

8                      159,578           139,169

9                      159,189           139,227

10                    133,096           139,079

http://www.sanantonio.gov/clerk/ReDistricting/index.aspx

 

 

 

March 1, 2012

Gerrymandering back in the news

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:20 pm
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Two stories in the news yesterday – one local and one national – provide a stark contrast between gerrymandering and redistricting. 

The local story involved the judicial review of Texas’s gerrymandered congressional districts.  A panel of federal judges in San Antonio attempted for the second time to ameliorate the severely gerrymandered districts, and not surprisingly none of the partisans was happy.  Republicans continued to believe that the judges showed too much judicial activism, while Democrats argued that the judges were too deferential.    

An article in the San Antonio Express-News focused on the Harlandale school district, which is a small, poor school district in the middle of south San Antonio.  The district has traditionally been a part of Congressional District 23, but with the new gerrymandered districts, the school district has been divided into three congressional districts – 20, 23, and 35.  Former District 23 Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, speechifying from the Harlandale district, legitimately argued, “The community is being divided, and the proof is right here.” 

But it is not just residents of the south side of San Antonio that are being abused by the Republican gerrymandering.  I live in northwest San Antonio in Congressional District #20, and if I were to drive east across north San Antonio for 40 miles, I would cross into five other districts – 23, 21, 35, 28, and 15.  Does that make sense for us Northsiders to have our congressional representation divvied up among six congressmen?  From what I have read, most people would rather have one full-time congressman fully committed to them than several part-time congressmen whose attention and loyalty are divided.

Austin and Travis County, because of their strong Democratic voting patterns, were particularly abused by the Republicans’ gerrymandering.  Travis County was divided into five separate districts, each of which was attached to a significant number of non-Travis voters.  Thus, Travis County, with a population in excess of 1 million, will control the election of zero congressmen.  Its one minority-majority district (35) stetches into San Antonio, which will control the selection of its congressman. 

The second news story involved redistricting, not gerrymandering in California. According to an article in USA Today, California is redistricted by independent citizens instead of politicians, and because of this process, David Dreier, a 16-term congressman and chairman of the Rules Committee, “was basically left without a district when California’s independent redistricting commission redrew the state’s congressional boundaries.”

How can it be that a congressman is left without a district?  With a little more investigating, I was able to learn from the LA Times that Dreier actually lived in a congressional district, but unlike Texas Republicans, he wasn’t allowed to map his district to include the people he wanted in his district.  According to the Times, his new district contains a majority of Hispanics and in the previous election the district’s voters went for Obama.  Rather than face those voters, Dreier decided to retire.  Perhaps related to his decision was the fact that the 59-years old bachelor who was rumored to be gay had been passed over for a senior leadership position in the Republican Party.

Gerrymandering is indefensible, but the problem is that candidates are not forced to defend it.  If I were running in a primary or general election, I would attempt to get my opponent to take a position.  If my opponent agreed, then that would be progress.  If my opponent disagreed, then this could become a successful election issue with the voters (if I could get the word out.)  A huge majority of voters hate gerrymandering and would not think kindly of any candidate who defended it.

 

http://www.texastribune.org/texas-newspaper/texas-news/brief-top-texas-news-feb-29-2012/?utm_source=texastribune.org&utm_medium=alerts&utm_campaign=News%20Alert:%20Subscriptions 

 

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/New-maps-for-voting-are-released-3367742.php 

 

December 19, 2011

Pimentel plays the race card

Filed under: Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:04 pm
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The San Antonio Express-News and its columnist O. Ricardo Pimentel opined recently that “Jim Crow lives in the state’s redistricting map.”  According to Pimentel, who recently immigrated to San Antonio from Wisconsin:

  • Jim Crow lives in these maps. He’s pretending that if he says his maps are intended to favor Republicans, not target Latinos who just happen to vote Democrat, this isn’t racist.  Mr. Crow is a bit more sophisticated these days. Gone are the poll taxes and the white primary, Texas’ historic tools. Now, redistricting and, yes, voter ID, serve the cause.  The point is: Don’t relinquish power. If there are rules or shifting demography that require it, change the rules and ignore the shifts. Find a friendly court. Texas is banking that the U.S. Supreme Court is it.  But one of Section 5’s functions is to block redistricting shenanigans.”
  • Section 5 says that states with histories of thwarting Latinos, blacks and others at the ballot box should have their new maps pre-cleared, usually by the Justice Department. This to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities.”

As I noted in an earlier blog posting, “redistricting shenanigans” or gerrymandering has been around since the early 1800s, and Texas Democrats have practiced the art as effectively as anyone.   Although I can’t think of anything good to say about the practice, it is generally legal, except when it has an effect that violates Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.     

I initially thought Pimentel’s description of Section 5 – that it requires pre-clearance of redistricting maps “to determine if the maps are drawn with the intent to discriminate or otherwise make matters worse for minorities” – was too simplistic, but I have learned from further reading that his description is essentially accurate – i.e., gerrymandering is illegal if it has a discriminatory effect or a retrogressive purpose on minorities.    

Thus, Republicans are much more ham-strung when it comes to gerrymandering than are Democrats.  Republicans can gerrymander to their heart’s content, but only if it doesn’t adversely affect minorities, who happen to be the base of the Democratic Party.  That doesn’t seem fair, and I can’t imagine why the Republican Party in 2006 under George W. Bush voted in favor of a 25-year extension of Section 5.  What were they thinking?

Fortunately, the Supreme Court in 1995 (Miller v. Johnson) held that Section 5 does not mandate gerrymandering in favor of minorities (the U.S. Justice Dept. had pressured Georgia to redistrict for so-called black-district maximization), and that makes me wonder whether a white plaintiff could challenge the new congressional district #35 that stretches from San Antonio to Austin.  

Regarding the title of this posting – “Pimentel plays the race card” – my point is that I believe Republicans are trying to discriminate against Democrats, not minorities, and that’s why I don’t think Pimentel should have played the race card.  But he has a track record of trying to inflame, not inform.

June 7, 2011

Gerrymandering in the 23rd Congressional District

As I previously blogged, the Republicans in Austin have gerrymandered the 23rd congressional District such that, whereas a majority of the district voters in 2008 voted for President Obama, a majority of the voters in the reconfigured district voted for John McCain in 2008.  That suggests that the district’s Republican congressman, Quico Canseco, will be able to hold on to his seat in 2012 if he can hold on to all of the John McCain voters.  That shouldn’t be difficult because, in hindsight, McCain was not a strong candidate, while Obama was.

You might recall that in my campaign, I complained that Quico was running for Congress in the 23rd District even though he lived in the 21st District of Lamar Smith.  More significantly, Quico had lived most of his life in another district in Laredo.  He was a classic carpetbagger.

Well, as a typical political insider, Quico has taken maximum advantage of gerrymandering.  According to a map of the most recent redistricting, Quico has not only annexed additional conservative McCain voters, but also annexed the gated development that he lives in.  District 23 now contains a narrow strip of territory – the Canseco corridor – that drops from Loop 1604 for a mile or so down Vance Jackson Road until it reaches the Canseco abode near Wurzbach.  It is a classic corridor to nowhere.

I think gerrymandering is an ugly American tradition to achieve partisan political advantage.  I think gerrymandering a narrow corridor in your district so that your house can be included is an example of narcissism that people see too often in politicians.  A recent poll of Texans revealed their opposition to political gerrymandering, but it is not a big enough issue to force politicians to do the right thing.

To make matters worse for me personally, the boundary for District 23 bulges away from me on three sides so that I now find myself in Charlie Gonzalez’s 20th District, one of the most liberal in the state.

I can only hope that the courts revise the boundary, but the court’s focus will not be on cynical, stupid aspects of the boundaries, but rather on violations of the Voting Rights Act.

If you want to know what congressional district you will be in, go to the Texas Legislative Council website, select Plan C141, and then click the “find” tab and enter your address.

 

 

June 2, 2011

Congressional-redistricting surprise – the politicians win while the voters lose

The Republicans in the Texas legislature have finally released their congressional redistricting proposal for the 2012 elections, and Rich Dunham has provided an excellent analysis of the winners and losers.   According to Dunham, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and the Valley were the big winners while Austin, Houston, and Dallas were the big losers.

Because of the state’s (mostly Hispanic) population gains, Texas will have four additional House districts, for a total of 36.  Three of the new districts will be in Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and the Valley, and local politicos are already plotting their next moves.  Dunham categorizes Austin,
Dallas, and Houston as losers because they were carved up and mixed with voters from outlying areas to diminish their ability to effect the election of big-city politicians.

There is a new saying in politics that, because of gerrymandering, voters no longer pick the politicians, but rather the politicians pick their voters, and this latest round of gerrymandering certainly proves that point.  A cursory look at the redistricted map shows that the new congressional districts are inexplicably configured.   The only way you can make sense out of the map is to know whether an area has Republican voters or Democratic voters.

Republican map-makers have drawn the district boundaries so that there are just enough Republicans in a district to win the election, but not so many as to win a landslide.  By contrast, a few districts are packed with huge percentages of Democrats to ensure the election of a fire-breathing
extremist in those few districts.  As the districts have now been re-drawn, Texas is expected to elect 26 Republicans and 10 Democrats to Congress.

Gerrymandering is horribly unfair to the voters because it makes a mockery of the principle that voters in a district should have a community of interests.  District 23, which I ran in last year, is a perfect example.  One-third of its voters live in far northwest San Antonio, which is primarily filled with Anglo Republican voters and another third live in far south San Antonio, which is primarily filled with Hispanic Democratic voters.  The final third of its voters live is west Texas, stretching 500 miles from the outskirts of San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso.  This ranching area
is filled with approximately equal amounts of Hispanic Democrats and Anglo Republicans.

Because of the configuration of District 23, the ranching West Texas community of voters is assured of having a distant outsider represent them, and either the north or the south sides of San Antonio are assured of having a congressman who is antithetical to their interests.

If you think District 23 sounds like a competitive district, you would be correct.  In fact, it is one of the few competitive districts in Texas.  In 2008, it voted for Obama and re-elected a Democratic congressman (Rodriguez), but in 2010 it voted for Democratic candidate for governor (White), but threw out the Democratic congressman and voted in a Republican (Canseco).

With Republicans in charge of drawing the boundary lines for 2012, you know that they did some tweaking to squeeze a few more Republicans into this erstwhile competitive district and to squeeze out a few Democrats.  According to the reported numbers, the newly re-drawn District 23 voted for Rick Perry for governor in 2010, so that should make the district safely Republican in 2012.

Texas has a history of being lackadaisical about fair redistricting.  In fact, it went 30 years from the 1920s to the 1950s without redistricting its legislature until the federal courts finally decided to require “one person, one vote” throughout the nation.  And because Texas has a history of not being fair with the voting rights of minorities, Texas is still subject to prior-approval of all redistricting plans under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  For an excellent review of Texas’s redistricting history and laws, see the white paper by the Texas Legislative Council (TLC).

This white paper by the TLC explains that gerrymandering of congressional districts is even more distorted than state districts because the federal constitution fails to provide any restrictions on the process whereas Section 26 of the Texas constitution wisely provides the following:

  • The members of the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the several counties, according to the number of population in each, as nearly as may be, on a ratio obtained by dividing the population of the State, as ascertained by the most recent United States census, by the number of members of which the House is composed; provided, that whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a Representative, such county shall be formed into a separate Representative District, and when two or more counties are required to make up the ratio of representation, such counties shall be contiguous to each other; and when any one county has more than sufficient population to be entitled to one or more Representatives, such Representative or Representatives shall be apportioned to such county, and for any surplus of population it may be joined in a Representative District with any other contiguous county or counties.

Although Section 26 doesn’t specifically provide for compactness, it indirectly accomplishes this by its so-called “county line” rule, and this is reflected by the Texas House redistricting map.    Unfortunately, the Texas legislature does not apply the county-line rule to congressional redistricting because that would limit their ability to effectively gerrymander the districts to maximize the number of Republican members in Congress, which is all they care about.  They don’t care that voters in rural El Paso will always be represented by a congressperson who lives 500 miles away in San Antonio.

Of course, Democrats are not innocent victims here.  As pointed out by Rich Dunham in the analysis cited above, Democrats engaged in gerrymandering just as egregious until they lost control of the legislature a decade ago.

I have no doubt that the voters of Texas believe in election fairness and have nothing but antipathy toward gerrymandering, but it’s an issue analogous to term limits and lawmaker pay & pensions – i.e., lawmakers are able to obfuscate and filibuster to thwart the will of the people.  Representative democracy has its limitations.

One solution to all of this dysfunction would be for Texas voters to have a right to initiatives and referendum.  I can’t think of a more significant to improve the functioning of government in Texas.

April 6, 2011

Redistricting the city-council districts in San Antonio

Several months ago, I wrote in my blog about a redistricting problem in San Antonio – i.e., voters who lived on the booming, Anglo-dominated Northside were being denied equal representation on the City Council.  Since then, the 2010 census has confirmed that the voters who live in the north and northwest predominantly Anglo districts 6-10 have no semblance of one-person, one-vote:

District            2000 population         2010 population

1                      97,161                         112,465

2                      94,737                         123,533

3                      97,630                         118,883

4                      119,713                       123,165

5                      85,600                         106,589

6                      112,066                       152,533

7                      110,888                       137,533

8                      164,391                       159,568

9                      137,201                       159,514

10                    123,190                       133,045

If the south and east Hispanic-dominated districts 1-5 were treated like that, I suspect there would be a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.  The Texas City Attorneys has made available a fascinating primer on redistricting issues in Texas, but it doesn’t indicate whether the Act might provide any protection to Anglos in a city where they are a minority, as they are in San Antonio.  The primer does note that a population deviation of up to 10% between the least populated district to the most populated district is probably OK.  It also notes that, although the numbers of illegal immigrants are considered in the population of a district, they are not considered in determining whether there are enough minority voters in a district to control the outcome of an election.  (FYI – according to 2000 census, only 12% of adult Hispanics in SA are illegal; whereas in Austin it is 35%, Houston 52%, and Dallas 60%.) 

Several weeks ago, my representative on the San Antonio City Council – Reed Williams – opined in the Express-News that, because of the booming population in the Northside, the 2012 census-driven redistricting of the council districts would have to move all ten districts toward the north.  Shortly after that, a reader of my blog – Bob Martin from the Homeowner Taxpayer Association of Bexar County – called me to suggest that instead of moving districts to the north as suggested by Reed Williams, the Council should create several new districts to represent the booming Northside. 

Martin had obviously given this idea some thought.  He pointed out that San Antonio has had ten single-member districts since 1977, at which time its official population was 654,153.  Thus, each member at that time had 65,415 constituents.  By contrast, San Antonio’s current population is more than double that at 1,327,407, and each member has 132,740 constituents. 

Members of the Council often complain about the excessive demand for constituent services from a position that is technically supposed to be a part-time job.  Well, creating additional council districts would reduce the demand for constituent services.

Fiscally conservative voters might object to the cost of these additional districts, but because of the way the Council is organized and paid, the districts could be added without a huge increase in expenses. 

San Antonio voters might be pleasantly surprised to learn that their Council is relatively cost-efficient.  A recent survey by Pew Research of 14 of the largest cities in America revealed that the budget-cost per council seat in San Antonio is $421,496 or $3.38 per resident or .52% of the city’s budget, and there are 88 council employees or one for every 15,610 city residents.  Relatively speaking:

  • San Antonio’s cost per council seat – $421,496 – is one of the lowest in the country, but not as low as Dallas ($244,837) or Houston ($390,965).
  • San Antonio’s number of council employees – 88 – is one of the highest in the country – more than Houston (83) and Dallas (36).
  • San Antonio’s number of residents per council-person – 137,367 – is one of the highest in the country – more than Boston (71k), Chicago (57k), Dallas (92k), and Washington, D.C. (74k).
  • San Antonio’s number of council districts – 10 – is one of the fewest in the country.  Houston has 14, Dallas has 15, and Chicago has 50.

According to the Express News article, “Despite San Antonio’s growth, there appears to be little appetite to add council districts — a hot, and ultimately futile, topic of discussion when the 2000 Census numbers were released. The process gets overrun by politics, Williams said.  ‘When you start adding districts, you raise too much political controversy as to where the districts are added and how they’re added,’ he said. ‘You don’t have people thinking clearly about how good, tight, clear districts should be drawn.’”

That sounds like a political gobbledygook.  I agree with Bob Martin’s suggestion that San Antonio voters would be better served if the city were to increase the number of districts to 14 because this would facilitate the tradition of part-time citizen representatives instead of full-time politicians representing special interests.

February 12, 2011

Redistricting in Texas – the first lawsuit

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , , ,

Based on the 2010 census, Texas and every other state with more than one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives are required to redistrict to comply with the “one person, one vote” requirement found (read-into) in the U.S. Constitution.  In most states, redistricting means gerrymandering – i.e., the party in control redistricts in such a way as to maximize the number of districts that it can win.  Usually this is done by crowding as many of the opponent’s voters as possible (90%+) into a few districts and spreading a working majority of your voters (55%+) in the other districts.  The Texas legislature will be allowed to be especially creative because its population growth have resulted in the state being awarded four additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Because the Texas Democrats were so weakened by the latest election, they will not have any political strength to oppose Republican gerrymandering, but they will have legal strength through the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority districts.  Thus, pundits expect any Republican redistricting plan will be challenged in the courts based on the Voting Rights Act. 

But conservatives did not wait to be sued under the Voting Rights Act.  Even before redistricting has been seriously debated, conservatives have sued the state to prohibit any redistricting that considers residents who are not in the U.S. legally.  An article in the Texas Tribune describes the lawsuit.

You may recall that I have previously blogged about this major flaw in apportioning districts – i.e., it fails to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens.   Thus, one congressional district with 800,000 residents may have only 500,000 citizens, while another district with 800,000 residents may have 790,000 citizens.  There is a strong argument that that violates the principle of “one person, one vote.”

This is going to be an interesting issue to follow.