February 12, 2009
Lawsuit filed to force city to redistrict

Former City Council Member Carroll Robinson, who has been a strong proponent for redistricting City Council boundaries and drawing two new districts now rather than waiting till 2011, has said that the city should not fear any litigation that might result from such an action. Clearly, Robinson himself does not fear it.

Community activists have filed a lawsuit alleging the City of Houston has violated the Voting Rights Act by putting off the redistricting of city council boundaries as required by its own charter and a decades-old court settlement.

The lawsuit, which seeks to force the city to begin redrawing voting boundaries, could have far-reaching implications, including delaying an upcoming special election to fill the council seat vacated by Sheriff Adrian Garcia and, possibly, even the November elections, plaintiffs claim.

Mayor Bill White, all 13 council members and City Controller Annise Parker are named as co-defendants in the suit, which was filed in federal court today.


The city's failure to take that action has galvanized minority leaders, who see the creation of new seats as a chance to increase the number of minorities on City Council.

"The result of that breach is lack of representation at City Hall by a significant portion of the community," said Vidal Martinez, a former Port of Houston Authority commissioner who is litigating the suit with former city councilman Carroll Robinson.

"The need for leadership to protect the voting rights of Houstonians is why we have acted today to seek the help of the U.S. Justice Department and the federal court to make sure that the city charter is complied with," Robinson said.

In a city made up of 41.7 percent Hispanics, 24.3 percent African-Americans and 5.3 percent Asian-Americans, according to the U.S. Census, there is one Latino council member, four African-Americans and one Asian-American.

The irony, of course, is that if the plaintiffs get what they want, the delay of the special election in District H will mean there will continue to be only one Hispanic on Council for however much longer. I guess they believe that the short-term loss is worth the long-term gain. Speaking as a resident of District H, I can't say I'm terribly happy about this.

I just can't excuse the decision to not take action in 2006, which would have settled all of this by now. Given that we put things off then, it makes sense to say we should wait till 2011 now. In a vacuum, I'd totally agree with that. But we could have headed this off, and we chose not to. I don't see how the path we didn't take could have been any messier than the one we appear to be about to take.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 12, 2009 to Local politics

Thank you for the posting Charles.
Totally amazing. The country and the world edge a total economic collapse and the best thing folks can do is file a lawsuit that will cause more problems than solutions.
Have these folks not considered dialog before law suits? They have to wait for years and for the city to begging a special election process to act.
The city is letting people go and reducing its budget which to my understanding might soon affect city services.
From New York to Texas construction is frozen and banks closed to lending.
Harris County, HISD, and the City are giving money and tax revenue away as if they had full coffers.
Etc etc etc.
So these defenders of the common good wait for years to address redistricting and the main reasons is race representation. Are Houston minorities under represented at City Hall?
According to "Census 2000 Data by Year 2003 Council District Boundaries" compiled by the city (calculated seat proportion):
Latino/Hispanic 37.4% pop. (5.6 seats)
Non Hispanic white 30.8% pop. (4.6 seats)
Non Hispanic black/African American 25% pop. (3.8 seats)
Non Hispanic Asian 5.5% pop. (0.83 seats)
Others 1.2% pop. (0.0 seats)
What is the current race representation at City Hall (shows representation for 17 members)?
Latino/Hispanic 1 of 5.6 (6.4)
Non Hispanic white 8 of 4.6 (5.2)
Non Hispanic black/African American 4 of 3.8 (4.2)
Non Hispanic Asian 1 of 1 (0.9)
And there is one vacant position given up by a Latino, not taken away.
So, the argument being made is that the Hispanic/Latino community is under represented and the white community is over represented by 4 to 5 members.
Side note: some people think Melissa Noriega is Latina. She is married to a Latino and likely Latino voters voter for her because of her last name and because they know she is married to Mr. Noriega. Plus is it so impossible for Latinos to vote for a Caucasian?
The current argument is about three city council positions that some people think would be best represented by Latinos.
Is it worth a law suit at a significant cost of funds to tax payers during bad economic times vs. engaging in a serious dialog and commitment to follow the law? For some people it is but I don't think it has to do about representation.
In my opinion their actions aim to maintain a status quo and not about establish true representation because the Hispanic/Latino community is as divers as the Caucasian and African American races.
There is the: Mexican-Americans, Mexicans, Central Americans, and South Americans. All three geographic areas have different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, each one of these communities living in Houston are divided between US born and immigrants (and can further divide them between legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants). For example, South American communities living in Houston may include: several generation Americans, recent immigrants, from all five world races, and cultures as different as the colors of the rainbow.
So, here we go. An African American (ex city council member, lawyer and professor) and a Mexican American (successful, internationally known lawyer) filing a lawsuit that will stop the city from conducting a May 9th elections. And in so doing taking away from me (a South American immigrant, Hispanic of mix race, civil engineer, expert in transportation/traffic engineering) the right given to all American citizens to run for city council and thus the opportunity to bring to the table a representation that city council has never had, an immigrant of South American origin with engineering skills.
I find it amazing that America has finally gotten over its racial bias and elected an African American to the presidency of the most powerful and richest country in the world; which, based on the arguments presented by Mr. Robinson and Martinez, DOES NOT represent America and should have never had happened since our country has over 70% white population. To me this is incredible. It is incredible that in the fourth largest city and one of the richest cities in the world, there are people who in the name of race equality fail to see the new world order. They fail to see what we should be looking out for the interest of the community as a whole.
American is a democracy where the greatest right of a citizen is to vote and the right to be represented. If many decide not to use their right then that is their democratic choice. What is not right is for two individuals to use the legal system to take away my right and that of 7 other Houston citizens. What is not right is for these individual to the away the right of thousands of voters from District H in name of race representation.
Please, somebody tell me I am wrong?

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on February 13, 2009 8:33 AM
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