The Austin Chronicle

One County, Four Senators?

By Lee Nichols, May 20, 2011, News

Austin, meet your new state senators. Depending on where you live, you may have to drive out to Horseshoe Bay or even all the way down to Laredo to do so.

Lest anyone think Congressman Lloyd Doggett was paranoid when he warned that Repub­lic­ans were scheming to split Travis County into four congressional districts, the GOP did just that when the state Senate redrew its own lines this past week. In the space of just five days, Senate Redistricting Committee Chair Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, rammed a map through that will take significant portions of southwest and southeast Travis County out of Kirk Watson's District 14 and stretch its boundaries out to cover Bastrop County.

As is currently the case, parts of South Austin will still be in San Anton­io Republican Jeff Went­worth's District 25. But the southwest will now go to District 24 of Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay (stretching all the way to Abilene), and the southeast will be in District 21 of Democrat Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Seriously ... Laredo.

As if that weren't absurd enough, Seliger's original plan would have put Austin-Berg­strom International Airport under Zaffirini, but a floor amendment put ABIA back under Watson.

Watson fought the new districts in committee, offering an amendment that would have kept District 14 entirely within Travis, but Republicans were in no mood for it. Watson testified that Travis' minority community has developed "an effective, cohesive coalition to elect candidates of their choice" and warned that chopping up East Austin could violate the Voting Rights Act. He also reminded the committee that this point had been heard in earlier public hearings but that testimony "has apparently been ignored."

Statewide, the other major scuffle was over Tarrant County, where Sen. Wendy Davis will lose most of her current constituency. Like Watson, she warned that her District 10 is now a minority-opportunity district (one where minorities have the ability to elect the candidate of their choice) and that moving so much of her nonwhite constituency into a Republican district likely violates the VRA.

After the map passed on Tuesday, Watson said the airport amendment was "an improvement," but, "I'm still disappointed about what was done to Travis County in this map. It's important that Travis County and Austin be the anchor for District 14. This amendment helped. Also important is that it reunites some of the traditional East Austin community."

Still, Watson feels that unlike the GOP's congressional maps, designed to completely force Rep. Lloyd Doggett from office, this map doesn't threaten his own electoral health. "This isn't about me," the former Austin mayor said. "Most of the people in this district are people I have long represented either as senator or mayor. I have strong friendships in Bastrop County. This is a district that if I run, I'll win."

The Senate Redistricting Committee was supposed to consider congressional maps this morning (Thursday), but the meeting was canceled. Congressional maps are still expected to be unveiled sometime in the next week, with input from congressional members.

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.