Last week we sat through a very long, very ugly city council meeting, which ended with the members narrowly adopting a new redistricting plan. At that time, council member Delia Jasso predicted that Latinos would probably sue over the four Hispanic-majority districts, given that Hispanics now make up 42 percent of the city population and 37 percent of the voting age population (and because the map originally forwarded to the council from the Redistricting Commission had five).
And it isn't over yet: Last night, former redistricting commissioner and city council member Domingo Garcia called together the first meeting of the new Latino Redistricting Task Force, a group of about 60 who met in the back room of Tejano Mexican Restaurant in Oak Cliff, home of the neon-green margarita. Garcia was pushing for a return to the map originally forwarded to council (of which he was one of three authors). He also outlined some possible plans of action: a lawsuit against the city (which, as a redistricting commissioner, Garcia can't be part of), protests outside City Hall, marching, picketing, getting people to speak about redistricting at city council meetings and a campaign to get as many letters and phone calls as possible to the Voting Rights division of the Department of Justice.
"This map has maybe created four Latino districts," Garcia told the audience, which included council members Scott Griggs and Monica Alonzo. "But, really, only two. Districts 1 and 2 are at risk."
Wait, District 1? Which has a 74 percent Latino voting-age population? Yes, Garcia told Unfair Park after the meeting. "It puts three voting precincts -- Kessler, Stevens and Winnetka Heights -- into one council district. Kessler and Stevens could dilute the Hispanic vote because of voter turnout." Pouring "wealthy, affluent voters" into a working-class Latino neighborhood, he said, unfairly jeopardizes both Districts 1 and 2.
"There are two groups disenfranchised by this map," Scott Griggs told the audience. "Those along the Keist-Illinois corridor, which was put into three separate council districts," as well as Hispanic voters.
Alonzo agreed. "Everybody saw the numbers," she said, "And we're disappointed."
"We're the largest group in Dallas," Garcia said, "And we would grow by one district at the most. ... So we can complain and whine and gripe and go home, or we can take action. I believe it's time to take action."
Garcia estimated the city of Dallas would spend $1.5 million to $3 million on legal costs. "They've already retained outside council," he said. "They'll spend $2 to $3 million of taxpayer dollars to defend an illegal map." But the Latino Redistricting Task Force, he said, only needs $100,000 to contest it. "We're much more efficient," he said. The task force still needs a plaintiff to go forward with a lawsuit.
At the same time, Garcia called for calls and letters to the Department of Justice. "If somebody in D.C. gets 1,000 letters and phone calls, ears will perk up," he promised.
Garcia also asked for five people to sign up to speak about fairness in redistricting at every city council meeting, but said he was also ready to look at "more out-of-the-box" thinking. He mentioned the Occupy Wall Street movement.
"That's grown," he said. "I don't see why we can't occupy Dallas City Hall. It belongs to us anyway." He asked that 300 Latinos try to show up for the next city council meeting. "I think that would have an impact," he said. He also added that the group needs to "re-mobilize" in 2012 to improve Latino voter turnout.
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Bill Betzen, who was also in attendance, promised to help coordinate public information efforts, telling me later that the map "grotesquely" disenfranchises Latino voters. "There are six Anglo districts and four Hispanic ones," he said. "It should really be the other way around."
Garcia said that although the task force would push for the mayor to re-adopt the Redistricting Commission's map, if the case goes to court, it would "probably be Bill's map" that they argued for. "North Dallas isn't going to like that," he said.
Garcia also said he'd "heard rumors" that the mayor is reconsidering the map, adding that the mayor had called him and said he wanted to talk. "I know he's open to dialogue," he said, "But I don't know yet what kind of dialogue." (Paula Blackmon, the mayor's chief of staff, told us yesterday such meetings were already taking place and that it's possible he could call a special meeting before the map has to go to the DOJ Saturday.)
"Between me and you," he told the crowd, "I'm hoping the council and the mayor will come to their senses and do the right thing. But if they don't, you guys will be ready."