Historically red, Tarrant County has diversified. Now Republicans are trying to divide his voters of color.
Over the past 10 years, voters of color in an ever-diversifying Tarrant County have seen their political clout grow.
In 2014, Ramon Romero was elected as the first representative of the Latino state of the county. Last December, Mansfield voters elected Michael Evans as the city’s first black mayor in the city’s 130-year history. And in November, Tarrant voters chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump, cementing a major political change that began when the district chose Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz two years earlier.
In Texas Senate District 10, which is nestled entirely inside Tarrant and represents about half of the county’s population, the district’s growing Asian, black, and Hispanic populations regularly band together to choose Democratic candidates, including former State Senator Wendy Davis in 2012 and current incumbent Senator Beverly Powell in 2018.
But as lawmakers scramble to redraw constituency boundaries, these voters of color could see their votes watered down in the Texas Capitol. The proposed Senate map, drafted by Republicans, targeted the district – dividing it up and associating its constituents with those in the southern and western counties, which made the district much whiter, more rural and more susceptible. to vote for the GOP.
Powell said the Republicans in charge were clearly trying to deny voters of color their voice in the election in an effort to bolster Conservative representation.
“The proposed card intentionally, unnecessarily and illegally destroys the voting power of minority citizens in District 10,” she said.
Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not gone through a decade without a federal court reprimanding it for violating federal protections for voters of color. Ten years ago, a federal court ruled that a similar attempt to redesign District 10 was intentionally discriminatory.
This time around, the chamber’s chief map designer Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said the maps were drawn “blindly.”
In hearings following the release of the proposed Senate map, elected officials and residents of Tarrant County pleaded with lawmakers to leave the district unchanged. But an amended proposal for a full Senate vote now has the remaining Tarrant County sections of the district linked to eight rural counties in the new Senate District 10 – six more than the original proposal.
Powell said urban voters of color who remained in the district would be drowned by white and rural voters in Cleburne and Mineral Wells with different needs. She begged her colleagues not to divide the existing neighborhood.
“This is personal for the people of Tarrant County,” she said. “They want to preserve their ability to make their voices heard in their elections. “
But on Monday, longtime state representative Phil King, a Republican who lives in Parker County, one of the proposed new counties in the district, announced he would run for the seat if lawmakers l ‘approved. Twenty minutes later, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who chairs the Senate, endorsed King for the seat.
On Tuesday, the Senate Redistribution Committee approved the card by a 12-2 vote.
Huffman said she consulted with the attorney general’s office to make sure the cards she drafted complied with the voting rights law, which protects racial minorities from discrimination. But she declined to say what specific parameters she took into account in her work.
Huffman’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The proposed changes to the racial makeup of Senate District 10 are striking.
In its current configuration, District 10 has an eligible voter population of 54% white, 20% Hispanic, 21% black, and 3% Asian. Under the proposed changes, the district’s voting age population would be 62 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black, and 2 percent Asian.
Each of the eight newly drawn counties to the district has a 70% or greater White population, and none have a Hispanic population greater than 25% or a Black population greater than 5%.
But more specifically, Powell said the proposed map draws a “jagged gash” from east to west in Tarrant County that divides the traditionally Hispanic neighborhoods north and south of Fort Worth. Those in the south remain in the district, while those in the north are placed in a new Senate District 9 represented by Republican Senator Kelly Hancock.
In total, Powell said, 133,000 people – more than 70% of whom are people of color – are being moved from Senate District 10 to Senate District 9, whose voting age population within its new limits is said to be predominantly white.
Tristeza Ordex, a Latino political activist who helped campaign for Powell in 2018, said moving Hispanics to a predominantly white district would hurt their ability to elect candidates who champion issues important to them.
“The Republican Party is doing everything it can to try to break down some of the voters in this district,” Ordex said. “It’s going to affect us. “
She noted that before Powell, Senate District 10 was represented by Konni Burton, a staunchly conservative GOP senator and strong supporter of the ‘sanctuary cities’ ban passed in 2017.
“It hurt so many people,” Ordex said, noting that Burton’s views disagreed with many residents in the neighborhood. Burton lost his re-election to Powell.
In recent years, Tarrant’s Latino community has organized around issues such as ending a county program that allows the sheriff’s office to illegally detain immigrants living in the country on behalf of the federal authorities. immigration, Ordex said. Community activists sent dozens of people to Commissioners Tribunal meetings to pressure officials to end the contract, showing the growing influence of voters of color in the county.
If those voters are moved to safe Republican senatorial districts, Ordex fears their concerns will be brushed aside. Ordex, who has worked as a staff member for state lawmakers, said the district could get a senator who would support ending the Texas Dream Act, which guarantees tuition fees for immigrants to the country without legal permission.
“They are watering down our vote, and what are they going to do? she said. “They are going to make decisions for us.
Sergio De Leon, a Tarrant County justice of the peace, said the problems of a large urban area like Tarrant do not match the largely rural counties the Senate proposal would add to the district.
“Hispanics in downtown Fort Worth don’t tend the cattle, they don’t cut the hay, and they don’t congregate at the grocery store,” he told lawmakers. “We do two or three jobs, we meet at the Fiesta supermarket and in the taquerias.
In the eastern part of the district, Powell said, the map “pushes a crooked billy club” north of Senate District 22, represented by Republican Brian Birdwell, which divides the town of Mansfield, a rapidly growing district with a population. growing and diverse, into two Senate districts.
Evans, the city’s mayor, told lawmakers that more than 41,000 of the city’s 72,000 residents were placed in Senate District 22, which extends south to Waco.
“Mansfield’s remaining 30,056 residents are crammed into the new SD-10 but submerged in a district dominated by Anglo-Saxon voters from Johnson, Parker and now other registered rural counties, in which our town shares no interest,” did he declare.
Evans said his town is dealing with urban issues such as transit infrastructure, housing and equity in local public schools and would “have no influence in agrarian and rural communities.”
Sixty-five percent of the city’s black population is drawn to District 22 while the remaining 35% goes to District 10, even though the city has been fully contained within District 10 for the past two decades.
“It’s discriminatory, it’s illegal,” he said.
Asked by State Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, how he would change the map, Evans replied:
“I would leave it as it is and watch it continue to grow, so the community can come together, vote and elect any candidate they want.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texatribune.org/2021/10/04/texas-redistricting-tarrant-county/.