Wednesday wrapped up the last of the statewide outreach hearings, which invited public testimony about Texas Legislature redistricting — including Austin officials who asked senators not to divide Travis County Senate District 14.
Doug Davis, staff director for the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee, said the Central Texas regional meeting didn’t take place until the beginning of the session to allow legislators to be there.
The hearings were held in regions throughout the state during the Legislature interim where the public shared their opinions on the upcoming redistricting process.
“I’m here to ask you to strongly consider maintaining the cohesiveness of Travis County and our constituents within Senate District 14,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. “We will continue to work together as a community as long as you all give us that consideration to stay cohesively together in choosing our elected officials.”
This legislative session, lawmakers face the task of using Census data to redraw representative districts by using population data. Redistricting occurs every 10 years after lawmakers receive the Census data and begin drawing plans.
According to a Census Bureau statement, Texas Census data was shipped to the governor and legislature leadership Wednesday and includes data summaries of population totals, race and Hispanic origin.
At the meeting, Texas Legislative Council member Clare Dyer announced that Census data will be available today by 2 p.m. to all lawmakers and on the Census Fact Finder website.
“We will load and verify population first to generate some maps very quickly to see how much that population deviates from the ideal district number,” she said.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, represents most of the city. State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who is historically conservative, represents portions of UT’s west campus population.
“Senate District 14 is entirely contained in Travis County and with the Census numbers,” Watson said. “It appears SD 14 can easily be redrawn and remain wholly contained within Travis County, allowing the area to maintain its voice.”
Community leaders like Gavino Fernandez, deputy director of League of United Latin American Citizens District 12, asked committee members for greater communication with lawmakers.
“We ask that you listen to our concerns and that you assist us in reaching our goals,” he said.
Houston resident A.J. Pate urged lawmakers to consider legislation he wrote to restructure the redistricting process by establishing redistricting principles, including one that would prevent gerrymandering — a process by which boundaries are drawn along party lines to favor incumbents.
“Redistricting determines the value of the worth of the most fundamental right in our republic: the people’s right to vote,” Pate said. “The only honorable goal is to combine fair and effective representation for the people of Texas.”
Citizens also outlined a goal of reducing the number of communities with divided representation. Yvonne Larson, Houston resident and member of Texans for Redistricting Reform, asked senators to unite her neighborhood of 600 people, which is divided in half.
State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said constituents like Larson can also view their situation positively. When Estes represented Abilene, it was also divided in representation.
“There’s two ways to think about it: One is it’s terrible that this community is split right down the middle, and the other way of thinking is it has two senators who care about it,” he said.