Lines in the Sand
Austin Legislators Prepare to Redraw Their Own Districts -- While Doing Business as Usual
Sen. Jeff WentworthDistrict 25 (San Antonio)
Capitol Office: CAP 1E.09
Capitol Phone: 512/463-0125
District Address: 1250 N.E. Loop 410, Suite 720
San Antonio, TX 78209
District Phone: 210/826-7800
Jeff Wentworth understands personally the importance of redistricting. In 1991, he was a state rep from San Antonio, and had designs on the Senate seat about to be vacated by GOP Senator Cyndi Krier. Suddenly Wentworth discovered that because of the redrawing of district lines that occurs every 10 years to reflect population changes documented by the census, his own home had been moved out of the district -- while the residence of George Pierce, another Republican legislator eager to run for Krier's seat, remained within the district. When Wentworth asked Pierce if he had anything to do with moving the district line, Pierce denied it. Sometimes it takes subpoena power and a judge to get to the truth. When the Legislature's redistricting plan went to federal court, the records and logs of the Legislative Council were subpoenaed and it was discovered that on the day George Pierce was working on the maps, Wentworth's house was moved out of the Senate district he now represents.
This session, Wentworth is chair of the Senate redistricting committee. "My primary focus for the session is going to be to see that we draw district lines that are fair, and that we create districts that cannot be challenged in court," he said, adding that to comply with federal law, districts must be "compact, contiguous, include a community of interest, conform with the Federal Voting Rights Act, and not dilute minority voting strength." He'd also like to create districts that do not divide counties among several legislators. "I've got 17 counties in my Senate district," he said, referring to a number of Hill Country counties that are -- in part -- included in his district. "I want to make those counties whole again." He says he's grateful that his committee includes four Republicans and four Democrats, because that will ensure districts that are "so fair they will not be challenged in court." But he adds that, because the census has determined that most of the growth during the past 10 years has occurred in the (mostly Republican) suburbs, the state's two new congressional seats should be located there.
Because he is the chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, Wentworth will file fewer bills this session than he has in the past. But he has filed one criminal justice bill to extend the statute of limitations on sexual assault from five to 15 years -- since advances in DNA testing now make it possible to identify the perpetrator of a crime years after it was committed -- and another that would allow DNA testing to free someone wrongly convicted of a crime, even if the DNA testing was not available at the time of conviction. He's also filed a bill to give counties more power to regulate development. "Counties want the bill," he said, "and cities support it because they often annex property developed under county ordinances."
Wentworth has served in the Senate since 1993 and currently has filed 17 bills.