By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When the Tejano Democrats threw their support behind Elsa Tovar, a political neophyte challenging state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt in last year's Democratic primary, the four-term Democrat of East Dallas was perturbed. Why not concentrate fire on Republicans instead?
Some Hispanic political leaders brushed off such sentiments then, and they're not sounding any more cheery now. The political power of Dallas' Hispanic community, they complain, lags in contrast to its swelling numbers. Now, they're certain soon-to-be-released census results detailing population growth by race and ethnicity will break the dam politically. If they have their way, some Democratic allies might get wet, among them U.S. Reps. Martin Frost and Eddie Bernice Johnson, in the effort to consolidate Latino neighborhoods and win more seats at the table.
We'd call that trouble in paradise, but no one is fool enough to consider the Texas Democratic Party a paradise, except maybe Republicans.
At a Monday meeting at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, political fix-it man Joe May previewed a wish list of political boundaries under 2000 census figures. A map of Republican and Democratic districts showed a red blot amid a sea of blue where Oak Cliff's well-to-do Kessler Park neighborhood resides. That's one zone where May thinks Hispanics will make inroads in Dallas politics.
His map of city council districts shows Laura Miller's Oak Cliff and southern Dallas council district subsumed, respectively, by black and Hispanic districts, giving Hispanics three safe city council seats rather than the current two. While 1990 census figures give Miller's district, anchored by Kessler Park, a slim Anglo majority, May anticipates the 2000 figures will wash away the last Anglo district south of the Trinity River. "Hispanics will be a plurality or majority" in Oak Cliff, he predicts confidently. (City council, the Legislature, the courts, and most likely the U.S. Justice Department among others will have something to say about that, of course.)
"He's pretty creative," said Kathleen Leos, a Dallas school trustee, as May detailed potential Hispanic city council wins in Pleasant Grove and Vickery Meadows swing districts. On other maps, May cobbles together Hispanic neighborhoods to form a county commissioner district and two new state representative districts. Then he stretches hypothetical lines from North Dallas to West Fort Worth to form a congressional district with a slim Hispanic majority.
Asked one participant: "Isn't that some of Martin Frost's district?" Under such a plan, Frost's 24th district would lose its Hispanic residents in Oak Cliff, although May doubted the high-ranking House Democrat's chances would be seriously threatened. It would also affect other Democrats, such as Johnson; does May worry about undercutting them? Nope. "I'm drawing Hispanic districts," May replies. "I'm not protecting anybody."
Cooperation, consensus, compromise--the foundation of politics in a democracy. Or you can just kick the crap out of friends and enemies alike in the name of ethnic parity.
Perversely, May thought he could satisfy some incumbent Republicans by gathering Hispanic--and likely Democratic--neighborhoods together, although the GOP would certainly fight any new Democratic districts. "Any new district I create will be a Democratic district," he says. "This is going to happen if MALDEF makes it happen through litigation." (MALDEF is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a civil-rights organization.)
May, whose day job is at the Small Business Administration in Fort Worth, then revealed some of the strategy that makes him a must-hire for Dallas political races. Looking at detailed census figures in the Swiss Avenue area, he discovered at least 150 disabled residents who cannot work. "This is where I'm going to get my disabled absentee vote, right here," he said with glee.