State reps pass redistricting map

Rep. Marc Veasey

Legislators believe congressional and legislative districts will be decided in the courts

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Although plans for new congressional and state house and senate districts are not complete, minority groups are already criticizing the plans.

Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston sent a letter to the Justice Department this week about the plan passed by the Texas House of Representatives for the state House. That plan has not yet passed the state Senate.

“Republicans cracked and packed communities of color into districts in order to dilute their voting rights,” Coleman said in a statement. “Close to 90 percent of the population growth in Texas was non-Anglo, yet this map reduces the number of districts where communities of color can elect their candidate of choice.”

Chuck Smith at Equality Texas said that his organization has not been keeping a close eye on redistricting because they have to work with whoever gets elected. He said his organization’s assumption was that whatever this legislature passed, it would be challenged in court.

Every redistricting plan passed by the Texas Legislature since 1980 has been challenged in court. After the 2000 census, Speaker of the House Tom DeLay intervened; those maps were redrawn several times and not settled until the 2006 election.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo

The office of Rep. Roberto Alonzo agreed with Equality Texas. Alonzo serves on the House Redistricting Committee.

Alonzo’s legislative aide, Cole Howard, said, “It looks like both sides sat back and determined the courts can decide the districts,” Howard said.

He called the map retrogressive and said it does not account for growth of minority communities.

Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth who serves on the redistricting committee, said there were a number of different scenarios that could happen. He said that if the Senate does not pass the House map or if the governor vetoes the map, it would be drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board.

That group is made up of five Republicans appointed by the governor.

“The strategy is to pack districts,” Veasey said.

But he said that the plans are not legal. Republicans are attacking Fort Worth’s urban core especially in Senate redistricting, he said.

“They’re going after Wendy Davis,” Veasey said.

He said that the plan for the Senate is to divide Davis’ district into as many as five pieces that would be assigned to suburban or rural districts.

“That would leave Fort Worth out in the cold,” he said. In a similar move in Dallas, he said state Sen. Royce West could be the only voice in Dallas.

He said he expects congressional seats to be left to the courts.

“No one has seen any plans yet,” he said.

Several maps have been drawn, but nothing discussed by the committee.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson already serves a packed district that includes most of the city’s heavily LGBT neighborhoods as well as most minority communities. Districts are supposed to be evenly divided in population but her district is one of the largest in the state. One of the four new congressional districts would have to be carved from her district.

In one plan, Johnson retains much of her district south of I-30. Oak Lawn would fall into a new district created to attempt to swing that new seat to a Republican candidate.

Veasey said that if House members do draw the map, they will attempt to carve a Republican seat from Johnson’s district, but he said he wasn’t sure how that would be possible or if it would even be legal.

Republican Rep. Pete Sessions’ current district was created to carve up former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost’s former district.

The tactic worked and Frost lost re-election after 13 terms in office.

In most plans, Sessions’ new district would become more safely Republican, taking the Oak Cliff portion of the area away from him.

“Our delegation should look more like Houston’s,” Veasey said.

Houston has more diverse representation in Congress. He said Dallas has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the country and the second-fastest growing African-American population.

In the plan passed by the House for the state House of Representatives, adjustments to the map would not seriously impact the chances of any incumbents in Dallas. State Rep. Rafael Anchia’s district would push further into Oak Lawn taking away some of Rep. Dan Branch’s district. Branch’s area would become more safely Republican.

Seats in North Dallas that recently swung from Democrat to Republican would also become more safely Republican by pushing out further into the suburbs.

In Fort Worth, Rep. Lon Burnham’s district would push into Veasey’s, whose district would be packed with even more minority residents. Veasey said both he and Burnham would be safe. Both have been strong LGBT community allies.

But Veasey said he didn’t think that part of the plan would be legal.

Under current Texas House rules, May 12 is the last day to pass bills, although the rules may change before this Thursday’s deadline.

The legislature adjourns on May 30. By that date, the Senate must pass its redistricting plan and reconcile their plan with the House.

However, according to the Texas Legislative Council, a nonpartisan organization that provides technical and legal support to the legislature for redistricting, a planned schedule doesn’t expect the Legislature to finish its work by the end of the session.

From May 31 through Aug. 27, the Legislative Redistricting Board will meet if the House and Senate fail to agree on a plan.

Once their work is done, the governor would call a special session of the Legislature to adopt the plan.

Since Jan. 2, 2012 is the last day for candidates to file for the November 2012 elections, all challenges must be settled by the end of December.

The Justice Department must also approve redistricting in Texas. This will be the first time since 1961 that Democrats controlled the Justice Department during redistricting.

—  John Wright

Lawmakers to file DOMA repeal Wednesday

Federal District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts has ruled — in two separate cases, no less — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

President Barack Obama has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and the Justice Department, under his administration, will no longer defend it in court.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said that the House of Representatives will defend DOMA in court since the Obama administration won’t.

And now, a group of five U.S. senators is set to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut will officially announce their DOMA repeal bill in a press conference at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday in the Senate Office Building.

Of course, with Republicans in charge of the House already having announced their plans to defend DOMA in court, and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s not likely that Obama will get to keep his campaign promise this year. Still, it’s nice to know DOMA repeal is still on the agenda.

—  admin

Watching the hypocrites self-destruct

As the dirty little secrets of ‘family values’ politicians and religious leaders come to light, the scandals help the cause of LGBT equality

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The new year is well under way, but it’s like Christmas just keeps coming for the LGBT community in terms of our enemies destroying their credibility by performing what amounts to high dives into empty swimming pools.

Just a few weeks ago we saw New York Republican Congressman Christopher Lee hastily resign after the website Gawker.com published an expose about the congressman’s attempts to hook up via Craigslist.

The website revealed Lee had e-mailed a shirtless picture of himself to a woman, along with the lie that he was a single lobbyist, rather than declaring his true identity as a married father and elected public official.

Now, the National Enquirer is treating us to an expose alleging that married Republican Speaker of the House John “Cry Me a River” Boehner engaged in at least two affairs with mistresses. It would seem that Boehner, who created a sensation tearing up on a 60 Minutes broadcast while discussing his rise to political fame, really has something to cry about now.

I would say that these fellows who portrayed themselves as champions of family values had exhibited a level of stupidity in their behavior that defies reason and distinguishes them as clowns without comparison — but I can’t. Because this is a story that we have seen play out time and time again.

For naysayers who criticize the sources of these exposures: Remember, when it comes to really distasteful news, it usually surfaces in alternative publications before the mainstream media dares to pick it up. A case in point would be the exposure of former presidential candidate John Edward’s infidelity that was revealed by the National Enquirer.

While Edwards wasn’t an enemy of the LGBT community, he was a champion of family values. So it’s only fair to point out that stupidity and compulsively destructive behavior obviously know no political boundaries.

It’s hard to figure out why a prominent public official would secretly engage in an activity that they publicly condemn. But they just keep on keeping on — to our enormous benefit. There’s nothing that turns off people and awakens them to the truth more than a good dose of reality via the exposure of false prophets’ hypocrisy.

My first recollection of this type of hypocrisy dates back to 1981 when I read The Gentleman from Maryland, The Conscience of a Gay Conservative by former Congressman Richard Bauman. Bauman, who by day railed against gay rights and by night cruised Washington, D.C., gay bars, lost re-election in 1980 over a scandal involving a gay prostitute.

Since then it has been one revelation after another involving foes of the gay rights movement. Who could ever forget the 2007 scandal involving former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig when it was revealed that several months earlier he was arrested in a vice squad sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s restroom? The married politician’s denials of guilt and attempts to explain away his behavior made him the laughing stock of the country for awhile.

Over the years, straight Americans’ acceptance of gay and lesbian people has steadily grown, and I suspect at least part of the reason for that has been the exposure of the secret lives of political and religious celebrities who denounce homosexuality and bisexuality as aberrant behavior.

It’s sort of like a housewife who is leading a fight against an ordinance that would allow liquor sales in a community getting busted for drunken driving while ferrying the neighborhood’s kids home from school. Her motives suddenly become suspect.

Of course, we can’t thank our foes for all of our good fortune. The relentless fight by gay activists during the past 40 years has had a tremendous impact on public perception about who we are and what we want.

The battles for parental and marriage rights, along with other nondiscrimination goals, have led many people to realize that many members of our community are in fact champions of family values. Our families just happen to look a little different sometimes, but they are essentially the same as the one next door.

It’s been a wildly successful formula for achieving gay rights since the birth of the movement in 1969, and I’m sure the success is going to continue. And for that we can thank ourselves and our foes who just can’t seem to help being true to their real natures.

David Webb is a freelance reporter and former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. He has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for more than two decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum tries to bully legislators into ousting Speaker Joe Straus

Speaker Joe Straus

The anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum is trying to bully state legislators into opposing Joe Straus’ bid for re-election as speaker of the House. As we’ve said before, Straus, R-San Antonio, is socially moderate and could be our last line of defense against possible anti-gay attacks in the upcoming session. The other candidates for speaker are Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who authored the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, who voted to ban gay foster parents.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Pat Carlson, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, is circulating a form letter for activists to send their legislators:

The letter says the Eagle Forum, which monitors issues such as abortion and gay rights, will base half of its legislative scorecard on who lawmakers support for speaker when the House convenes next week.

The Eagle Forum and many other groups on the right and left use scorecards to track key votes during a legislative session and then rate lawmakers. A poor rating from the Eagle Forum, for instance, could cause trouble for a lawmaker seeking re-election in a Republican primary.

“Texans have spoken at the ballot box by returning a strong conservative Republican majority to the Texas House,” the letter says. “They expect this conservative majority to vote for a conservative speaker. Unfortunately, Speaker Straus is not a conservative. Anyone who says otherwise, was not paying attention during the last legislative session or has not looked at Speaker Straus’ political associations and background or both.”

The story goes on to note that a vast majority of House members have pledged support for Straus, who is considered a favorite to remain speaker.

—  John Wright

Open letter to Pelosi

Calling on the Speaker of the House to keep her promise on ENDA

We are writing to express how extremely troubled we are that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full House of Representatives. We believe a floor vote must be scheduled for ENDA immediately.

It would be devastating for LGBT workers for this Congress to not complete its work on ENDA before the end of this session.

ENDA would be historic in the number of LGBT people who would benefit from its passage. During this economic crisis, it is more important than ever to prohibit the often-impoverishing effects of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Most LGBT workers have no protections from workplace discrimination. ENDA would provide legal protection against discrimination nationally.

Over and over we have been promised that a vote would be scheduled on ENDA, and these promises have been repeatedly broken. In 29 states, it is still legal to fire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And in 38 states it is legal to fire someone solely for being transgender.

The current version of the bill would outlaw discrimination on both sexual orientation and gender identity.

A 2006 study by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Transgender Law Center found that 60 percent of transgender people in San Francisco earn less than $15,300 per year; only 25 percent have a full-time job, and nearly 9 percent have no source of income.

Only 4 percent reported making more than $61,200, which is about the median income in the Bay Area.

More than half of local transgender people live in poverty, and 96 percent earn less than the median income. Forty percent of those surveyed don’t even have a bank account.

What this study reveals is that even in a city that is considered a haven for the LGBT community, transgender workers face profound employment challenges and discrimination.

A 2007 meta-analysis from the Williams Institute of 50 studies of workplace discrimination against LGBT people found consistent evidence of bias in the workplace. The analysis found that up to 68 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing employment discrimination, and up to 17 percent said they had been fired or denied employment.

Public opinion polling shows that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of making sure LGBT Americans get the same employment opportunities as everyone else. In fact, the latest surveys shows that nearly 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness for LGBT workers.

As you know, in a few weeks, Congress will finish it’s legislative business for the year so that they can return to their districts to run for re-election. Last month at a LGBT Pride event, Congresswoman Jackie Spier announced to the LGBT community that not only would we not get ENDA before the end of the legislative session, that she did not think we would get it for five years because we won’t have enough votes in Congress again to ensure passage.

It is ironic that Congress plans on leaving town and going home to campaign for their own jobs while leaving thousands of LGBT workers without protections for the next five years. When 90 percent of Americans support workplace fairness, it is challenging to believe that anyone fears a backlash from the voters.

The time to pass ENDA is now. The American people support it; the politicians promised it. No more broken promises. We demand that a vote be scheduled now.

FROM: SF Pride at Work, One Struggle, One Fight, GetEqual, Harvey Milk Democratic Club, El/La, Transgender Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National Pride at Work.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas