February 24, 2009
Interview with Vidal Martinez and John Castillo

As you know, I've been following the issue of Houston City Council redistricting with a lot of interest. After the lawsuit was filed a week ago Thursday, I wanted to speak to the protagonists and ask them some questions about their position and their desired outcome. I had that opportunity recently, and sat down with attorney Vidal Martinez and former City Council Member John Castillo, who was one of the key players in the 1979 suit that gave us the districts we have now. (Carroll Robinson was also going to be in on this, but he had a last-minute conflict.) I have to say, they make a compelling case for taking action now - among other things, Martinez points out that the original map was drawn with 1970 Census data; they didn't wait till the 1980 Census was out to go ahead with it - and claim that it could be done in time for even the May special election to go forward, if all parties agreed to do it right away. You can listen to the interview here (MP3) and judge for yourself.

As I understand it, we are currently waiting on a court hearing and a Justice Department investigation. The defendants - the Mayor, the Controller, and all City Council members - have 20 days to give their responses to the suit, so we'll presumably see some action in early March, which is to say shortly after the filing deadline for District H. In the meantime, let me know what you think about what Martinez and Castillo have to say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 24, 2009 to Local politics

Thanks for the interview. It brings more questions than answers:

1. Are these folks saying that current districts were drawn based on 1970/1980 census data? If so they waited 20 plus years to try to fix it through a lawsuit?

2. Why Carroll Robinson did not take the leadership to do redistricting when in office?

3. Why wait till District H is vacant to address redistricting?

4. Didn't Adrian Garcia leave the post vacant to allow District H voters elect our representative? Why are these folks trying to stop the process?

5. Will this "redistrict" redistrict candidates out of their current districts? If so, would those affected candidates file law suits against the city for being redistricted out?

6. It was stated that to run for at large a candidate needs $3 million. Wow, politics is for and by the rich then. Charles, you should be able to find out how much at-large candidates spent? i.e. Ron Green, Jolanda Jones, etc. If not mistaken, at the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Marc Campos indicated that at-large is in the $300k not $3M.

At the Latino Summit Jerry Wood spoke about redistricting. He indicated that Latinos tend to spread around. Redistricting might catch Latino representation but the dynamic of Latino voters will require very clever strategy in districting Latino representation over a long term. He also indicated that it is possible to redistrict the city within weeks. Lastly in his opinion the judge dealing with the law suit might favor redistricting for the November elections but not for the May special election.

My guess is that current lack of Latino representation reflects a lack of Latino leadership over a long period of time. The lawsuit will likely not fill the void in Latino leadership. What it might do is create Latino districts with inadequate leadership which might be worst than the current situation.

Thus we should discuss what are the qualifications needed for leadership at city council level? Also what are the current challenges that the city faces? Within the Latino community, what are our challenges and needs for leadership?

If I remember correctly; 50% plus of HISD is Latino. 60% of HISD students do not graduate. Only 50% of Latinos graduating from high school attend college. Of the Latinos attending college only 50% graduate. Thus roughly only 15% of Latinos graduate from HISD. Of those only 7.5% attend college and only 3.75% graduate from college.

How is this lawsuit helping prepare our Latino generations? How are Latinos preparing themselves for leadership?

Who are our Latino leaders and what are their qualifications?

Who are the Latinos in Houston? How many Latinos can vote? How many are undocumented immigrants?

The fourth largest city in the country and one of the wealthiest in the world. We have neighborhoods that are similar to those I have seen in third world countries and I think our city leaders (political and civic) do not know the difference.

47% of the city's 2 million plus population is Latino and less than 4% of Latinos will obtain college degrees.

Houston has a problem for sure .

Posted by: Gonzalo Camacho on February 26, 2009 4:49 AM
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