Republicans found "very, very clever ways" to minimize minority voting opportunities in new Congressional and House maps passing in June, University of Houston professor Richard Murray told a three-judge panel during the redistricting trial in San Antonio yesterday.
Murray, director of the Survey Research Institute at the University of Houston Center for Public Policy, estimated he had testified between 15 and 20 times in redistricting cases, sometimes for Democrats and other times on behalf of Republicans. Yesterday, he was testifying at the behest of the Texas NAACP.
The rise of the Republican Party, and elimination of a two-party political system in Texas, has minimized the importance of drawing districts that provide African Americans and Hispanics with the chance to elect a candidate of their choice, Murray said. Republicans, mostly white and conservative, no longer seek to court an African-American base typically aligned with the Democratic Party.
"For almost 45 years, we had competition for minority voters (with a two-party system), and that's a good thing," Murray said in testimony solicited by Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe. "When you don't have competition, I think the consequence over time is not good."
When only one political party writes the map, no one is courting the minority vote, Murray said. That's only exacerbated by the gulf between African Americans and the current GOP, which has made lackluster attempts to court minority voters.
"The partisan divide between the Republican Party and black voters is one of the most striking features of modern American politics," Murray said.
The election of the nation's first African American president, ironically, has only increased that divide, Murray said. It sparked the rise of the Tea Party, which led to landslide defeats of Democratic candidates and even those down-ballot candidates in Harris County with names that just didn't sound Anglo enough.
The Tea Party would never have emerged as strong as it did in the 2010 elections if the Republican McCain-Palin ticket had won in 2008, Murray said.
Murray's own analysis is that the newly drawn Congressional maps had weakened minority participation. The last map offered minority coalition and minority opportunity districts in 11 out of the 32 drawn Congressional districts. The new map, still subject to federal approval under the Voting Rights Act, offers 10 out of the 36 districts under similar standards, Murray said.
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"Are minorities better or worse off?" Bledsoe asked Murray.
"They're worse off," Murray said.
Murray also questioned the choice to round down, rather than round up, Harris County state house seats. Lawmakers could have chosen to give the county 25 House seats; instead, they gave Harris County 24. They also strategically divided and diluted the power of the minority vote, particularly the Asian American vote in Southwest Houston, Murray told the court.
The redistricting trial, filed by minority groups and lawmakers, is expected to last two weeks. On Monday, U.S. Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, Henry Cuellar, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee are expected to testify.