Redistricting

No voice for Central Texas

The wide swaths of white space on this map – aka the heart of Texas – indicate a lack of representation on a Senate redistricting committee.
The wide swaths of white space on this map – aka the heart of Texas – indicate a lack of representation on a Senate redistricting committee.

Nearly a decade ago (and then again in 2003), the goal of redistricting in Texas seemed to be sticking it to Democrats, and Austin in particular. Looking at Lt. Gov. David Dew­hurst's appointments to the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting announced last week, Austinites can probably expect similar treatment in next year's redrawing of the lines: Not one of the 11 senators on the committee hails from anywhere near Central Texas. (At press time, Dewhurst had not returned the Chronicle's phone call.) So if you held out any hope of doing away with the abomination that caused most of liberal Travis County to be represented by two staunch conservatives in Congress, don't hold your breath.

"This is a mistake," says Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, adding that he's "made contact with the appropriate people" to register his concern. "If you look at a map with the Senate districts represented on the committee, the heart of the state ... is left out." Watson then put it another way – the I-35 corridor from Fort Worth down to San Antonio, an extremely fast-growing region, is not represented, save for a seven-mile strip where I-35 borders the northernmost tip of Sen. Judith Zaffirini's district.

It's an omission that could have been easily rectified with the inclusion of Republican Sen. Jeff Wentworth, whose district runs up the highway from San Antonio to South Austin. Wentworth would have been a good, and seemingly obvious, selection – he's been pushing for redistricting reform since 1993. However, the moderate Wentworth is an outcast in an increasingly radical Republican Party. His attempts to overhaul the redistricting process in the last legislative session – a bill that would have taken the process out of the Legislature's hands and into a committee evenly balanced between the parties – couldn't get enough support to get to the Senate floor. (Wentworth was unavailable for comment.)

"It is a significant disappointment and difficult to understand," Watson said. "It puts a special obligation on those of us who represent Central Texas to be involved, even though he may have excluded us from the select committee."

The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting:

Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo

John Carona, R-Dallas

Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler

Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls

Joan Huffman, R-Houston

Dan Patrick, R-Houston

Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands

Mario Gallegos, D-Houston

Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen

Royce West, D-Dallas

Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

redistricting, Legislature, David Dewhurst, Jeff Wentworth, Kirk Watson

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