AUSTIN — The Texas House approved voting maps on Thursday, but the redistricting chairman surprised many lawmakers by accepting tiny changes to a handful of districts and angering members of both parties.
The so-called tweaks to House district maps also broke with Gov. Rick Perry’s call for the special legislative session by varying from the court-drawn maps used in the 2012 election. The House must still give final passage to the bills today.
Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia and Republican Rep. Bennett Ratliff changed the border between their Dallas-area districts to move only two precincts that contained voters. One of the precincts included the home of Ratliff’s tea party rival, Matt Rinaldi, prompting Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, to call Ratliff a “big liar” when coming out of a closed-door Republican meeting about the change.
“The Ratliff amendment that was accepted was to draw myself, a potential challenger, out of his district,” Rinaldi told The Associated Press.
The only other changes accepted by the Republican majority Thursday dealt with small precinct changes in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Webb counties, mostly to consolidate
minority voters into districts represented by minorities. The adjustments, though, only affected a few thousand people and frustrated Democrats who wanted more profound, widespread changes.
At Redistricting Committee meetings, Chairman Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, rejected all attempts to change the map, saying he would only accept adjustments required by law. He rejected every proposal put forward by Democrats, while Republicans offered none.
On the House floor Thursday, though, Darby started accepting small amendments put forward by minority Democrats, leaving Dallas Rep. Yvonne Davis, the Democratic Caucus leader, to ask about the change of heart.
“We were under the impression that floor amendments would not be accepted,” Davis said in asking for a delay after Darby accepted three amendments. “We should afford the opportunity for folks who would like to put amendments forward to do so.”
That set off a flurry of proposed changes that took hours to debate. Democrats complained that the 2012 maps too closely resembled the Legislature’s original maps, which a Washington court said demonstrated “intentional discrimination” by the Republican majority against minority groups such as blacks and Hispanics.
But Darby rejected all additional amendments, including all proposed changes to the congressional map, after an adviser to Attorney General Greg Abbott was seen privately advising Republican lawmakers.
Abbott has called on the Legislature to adopt the 2012 maps to put an end to an ongoing voter’s rights lawsuit in San Antonio federal court.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, leader of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, complained that the federal judges in San Antonio never intended for the 2012 maps to become permanent and that a fair map would create more districts with Hispanic majorities.
“When we tell people that we can draw a majority Hispanic, voting-age population district in West Texas, they don’t believe it, but we can do that. This is a live claim before a federal court right now,” Martinez Fischer said.
The maps now have preliminary approval from both chambers and will likely go to the governor after procedural votes today. The new Texas House and congressional district maps, however, will only lead to additional federal court cases. The only question is whether they will be used for 2014, or if the three-judge panel in San Antonio will draw new maps for the Texas House and congressional districts.