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17 September 2013
----- Forwarded Message ----From: Fernando Florez <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Tue, 17 Sep 2013 22:04:45 -0600 Subject: Why Redistricting is Important to the Hispanic Community in Fort Worth
IN MY OPINION...
Why Redistricting Is Important to the Hispanic Community in Fort Worth
By Fernando Florez
September 1, 2013
Special to Nuestra Voz de Tarrant County
Source: Fort Worth Redistricting, URL: http://fortworthtexas.gov/redistricting/?id=99802
Shortly after the end of World War II one of my friend's father returned home to
Fort Worth after his military service. A few days later he and a friend went to a restaurant downtown. They sat down at a table to order and soon a waiter came over
and told them: "We don't serve Mexicans." With his great sense of humor, my friend's father replied to the waiter: "We weren't going to order one" and left the restaurant. Being discriminated against and disrespected in other ways was not uncommon for Hispanics in this and other parts of Texas and the Southwest. But in part because of the military contributions of Spanish, Mexican-Americans and Tejanos to the United States going as far back as the American Revolutionary War, which have not ever been fully recognized to this day, injustices such as this one were catching the public's eye and the winds of change were already blowing slightly. In Los Angeles, California, the state with the highest Mexican-American population in the United States, school children were segregated in "Mexican Schools," which were of inferior quality. In Mendez v. Westminster, in 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially segregating children of Mexican and Latin descent in state operated public schools in Orange County and the state of California was unconstitutional. This ruling helped establish the foundation for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case which ended public school segregation throughout the U. S. in 1954. In many areas Mexican-Americans were kept off juries in cases which involved Mexican-American defendants. In 1954, here in Texas, Pete Hernandez, an agricultural worker, was indicted of murder by an all-non-Hispanic White jury in Jackson County. Hernandez' attorneys believed that unless members of other races were allowed on the jury-selecting committees a jury could not be impartial. A Mexican-American had not been on a jury for more than 25 years in Jackson County. Hernandez and his attorneys took the case to the U. S. Supreme Court which in Hernandez v. Texas Supreme Court declared that Mexican-Americans and other cultural groups' rights were equally protected by the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This was a significant step forward; however, some organizations, businesses and homeowner associations still had official policies that excluded Mexican-Americans. Well into the 60s, for instance, a few signs with phrases such as "No Dogs or Mexicans" were still posted at a few small businesses and swimming pools in some parts of the Southwest. Disenfranchisement, manifested by lack of representation, was the cause of the discrimination and it affected Hispanics in all aspects of life. This was also an era of intense racial turmoil for Africian-Americans in the Deep South, which was given wide coverage by the national media. It was brought into focus by a march on Washington, D.C. for "Jobs and Progress." Despite the guarantee of "equal protection" promised by the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, African-Americans were still living in abject poverty, particularly in the Deep South, an area rife with Jim Crow laws.
It was on this occasion that Dr. Martin Luther King, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered to 250,000 civil rights supporters and a national television audience his memorable "I have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963. The large gathering and speech aroused the conscience of the nation and helped usher the Civil Rights Act the following year and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. So what does all I've said have to do with redistricting? Everything. Redistricting is about protecting voting rights and thus increasing the chance of having more representation. Representation is about having a voice where policies are enacted and has a broad impact: It affects opportunity for a better education for children, jobs, housing, and about everything else. While I was growing up in South Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, political power was almost exclusively held in the hands of non-Hispanics who advocated maintaining the status quo, with the vast majority of Hispanics as the underclass. Sure there were plenty of jobs--harvesting crops there in the valley itself and doing migrant work up north, following seasonal crops in several states, los trabajos-- without much of an opportunity of ever moving up to the middle class and a better life. It was not until toward the latter part of the 1970s that Hispanics were elected to the majority of the public offices. Today, because it sank so low, the Rio Grande Valley is an area in transformation--it's slowing rising. I came to work at General Dynamics here in Fort Worth as an electronics technician/ technical writer after my Army discharge in 1968. There has been some change here since that time, but what is still prevalent is the same attitude that those with the political power in the Rio Grande Valley had when I was growing up: Maintain the status quo by keeping the same people or those of their ilk, who opposed sharing political power with Hispanics, in control. I never thought that was right then nor that it's right now--no matter how it's spinned, it's simply wrong to keep Hispanics or any other group from having their voice heard-- and it's the reason I am involved in redistricting. Redistricting involves drawing electoral districts' boundaries. Because of a long history of discrimination, especially in the South, Texas and the Southwest, and to comply with the Voting Rights Act, boundaries must be drawn in a manner that will protect the voting rights of minorities. Here in Texas, there is redistricting of U. S. Congressional districts and of state Senate and House of Representative districts, by the legislature. (Briefly, in the North Texas area, the legislature has drawn districts that minimize the chances for Hispanics to be elected to office, by diluting the impact of their votes, and some lawsuits are pending.)
There is other information associated with redistricting that is significant: A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has gutted part of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and as a result the Texas Voter I.D. law that was passed in the last session of the legislature (when there is no evidence that it was needed) will be implemented. The latter, an anti-minority voter suppression scheme, is being challenged in court by several Hispanic groups and the U.S. Justice Department. I am focusing my discussion on Fort Worth redistricting, which is what I've been involved in for nearly twenty-five years. I am briefly reviewing what we've done in regards to both Fort Worth City Council and Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) redistricting the last couple of years and what it looks like for the future as the battles continues. Fort Worth City Council redistricting: Fort Worth adopted an 8-1 single-member city council-mayor electoral system in 1977. Prior to that, in a typical election, the top nine vote getters--all of them usually lived in two of the most affluent areas of the city--were elected. They in turn selected the mayor. At that time the population of Fort Worth was approximately half of what it was in the 2010 census count. The Hispanic population of Fort Worth was not very high then, but in the 2010 census the total population of the city was 742,765, with 34% of it Hispanic; the Anglo-White population was 42%, African-American 18% and other 6%. Between the last two census cycles, the only group that showed a percentage increase in population was Hispanics. Because Fort Worth prides itself as being a diverse city, we have been trying to convince the city council to change its electoral system to be more inclusive by drawing more than one district in which a Hispanic has a chance of being elected. Sure, we know that the Hispanic population is somewhat scattered, and that it includes non-citizens in it, but if district lines are drawn properly it can be done. Two strong majority Hispanic functional districts can easily be created by converting to a 10-1 electoral system and that was the focus of our redistricting effort early on, right after the 2010 census data came out. But it was an uphill battle from the start because the majority of city council members' main focus was to protect their self-interest, their turf, and the best way to do that was by keeping the same system in place. Any change to the electoral system would have to be first approved by the city council itself, or forced on them by collecting enough signatures on a petition, before it would go to the voters to decide the issue and amend the city's charter. Our petition drive campaign's rallying cry to force the city council to call an election was "Let the People Decide," but we couldn't muster enough public support. Very few people seem to care whether Hispanics have fair representation--except Hispanics.
After that, we redrew new maps for an 8-1 electoral plan, focusing on creating a second strong functional majority Hispanic district, in the city's south side (district 9). After some negotiation, some slight changes were made to the city's map, but not enough. Still left in the district were five precincts west of 8th Avenue; those precincts are 90% plus Anglo-White, Republican, (except Mistletoe Heights, Precinct 1076, which is more liberal and the vote is usually split between Democrats and Republicans in major elections), much more affluent, with a higher educational level and household income (at the middle to upper middle class level), and with higher property values. By contrast those precincts east of 8th Avenue, such as South Hemphill Heights, Worth Heights, and Rosemont, are majority Hispanic in population; people there have a much lower educational level and household income and they vote for Democrats in major elections; the two areas have no "Communities of Interest." In other words, these two areas have nothing in common and should not be in the same council district. More affluent people, with more education and higher income, vote at higher rates, and in Fort Worth as a bloc for White-Anglo candidates, overwhelming minority candidates from the rest of the district. The precincts west of 8th Avenue have won every competitive election in District 9 since Fort Worth went to single-member districts in 1977. This is not conjecture, but based on the research we've done. We fought hard for our plans (three of them were submitted for consideration), but, unfortunately, lost that battle. Over our objection, the city adopted their plan on July 24, 2012 and submitted it to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (In the city's plan, the total population in City Council District 9 was 91,140, with 57.72% of it Hispanic. The total Hispanic population percentage looks good on paper, but a clearer picture of City Council District 9 emerges after looking at the map more closely: The total estimated citizen population for the district using American Community Survey (ACS) data was 69,060; the estimated citizen population for nonHispanics was 36,775. The total estimated Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) for the district was 46,540; the estimated non-Hispanic CVAP was 31,360 and the estimated Hispanic CVAP was 15,180. From this data, it can be seen that the Hispanic population is young and some of it is non-citizen. Approximately two thirds of its voting age population is non-Hispanic. Throw in the polarized, bloc voting west of 8th Avenue in the mix and it's no wonder that every contested election in the district has been won by an Anglo.) We objected to the city's plan with the Federal Justice Department, but without going into too much detail here, we knew our chances of prevailing were slim. On October 1, 2012, we and the city's attorney were notified that their plan was precleared.
So was putting up the fight we did worth it? Without a doubt, absolutely. First, Section 5 of the VRA is mainly about retrogression--not about a population that is increasing, such as Hispanics--and the maps we submitted show that if the city council had adopted one of them we would have created a second Hispanic district in the south side. That leads us to Section 2 of the VRA, which places much stricter standards for the city to meet, but the burden of proof is ours. (Again, I couldn't possibly cover all of that in this short space.) As I write this, lets just say that a lawsuit against the city is a strong possibility. Stay tuned. Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) redistricting: With respect to FWISD redistricting, we have also been fighting a tough and contentious battle for the same reason as city council redistricting: fair representation, commensurate to the Hispanic population. With an approximately 62% Hispanic student population in the district (the African-Americans student population was 23.28%, and Anglo-Whites nearly 12% out of approximately 82,000 students in the district during the last school year), we sought a third seat out of nine when the position of school board president elected-at-large was eliminated last year and an additional single-member district was created. Looking at the treatment of minority students historically here in Fort Worth, in other parts of the Texas, in the Deep South and in the Southwest and with the vast majority of school children in the district being Hispanic, what was so unreasonable about drawing an additional Hispanic majority district? We simply must have a stronger voice on the school board where policy affecting the future of our children is made. We are not racists as some of us have been called, but instead, we tried to right a wrong--having an unequal voice on the school board. After months of battling, a third Hispanic leaning district was created and a Hispanic was appointed to it; but neither District 8 nor District 9, the two Hispanics leaning districts which were newly redrawn were as strong as they should have been. The establishment fought us hard and helping them was our major daily newspaper, which unfairly took their side; we were badmouthed for "seeking more political power," as if that wasn't justified. With the increased xenophobia being directed against Hispanics everywhere we are seeing a higher level of polarized voting. That, and the nitpicking by one of the newspaper's writers and the editorial board over a period of time, and the money pumped into the race by the special interests against him, Juan Rangel, the incumbent, lost the runoff election by 23 votes on June 15, 2013. In my opinion, in District 8 the threat of having to raise large sums of money to mount viable campaigns dissuaded two genuine Hispanic candidates from staying in the race for that seat.
The establishment is fighting us hard to keep Hispanics off the school board. Today, we have essentially one Hispanic on the FWISD Board of Education. But the last chapter in this saga has not been written yet. Again, stay tuned.
Fernando Florez has been a community leader in Fort Worth for nearly twenty-five years, having served in numerous capacities at the grassroots level and on city government boards. He has a technical background in telecommunications, as a human resources manager and as an educator. He holds BBA and MBA degrees from Texas Christian University. What he has written here is solely his opinion. He may be contacted at email@example.com and 817.239.0578.
Mexican American Studies University of North Texas
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