After MALDEF’s Nina Perales got Pasadena’s election lines redrawn fairly, progressive Mary Ann Pérez beat conservative Ken Legler in the next election for Texas House of Representatives District 144.

NASHIVLLE, TN ­–In April the Census Bureau announced the apportionment counts that determine how many representatives each state will have based on population data from the 2020 Census.
There are 435 representatives in the House of Representatives from 435 congressional districts. It’s a zero sum game. Texas gained two seats in the reapportionment so two other states will lose a district. Districts all have the same number of people.
Harris County, Texas has the third highest population in the U.S. With many Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans, the Houston area could get a new minority congressperson if the lines were drawn fairly. The Republicans of Harris County are not about fair.
Gerrymandering is a long-standing tradition in American politics and it happens after every census when district lines are redrawn. In states with trifectas, where one party controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, congressional districts are often drawn to favor an incumbent or the party in power. That could happen in Houston. It is a blue city in a purple state with a red political establishment.
Republicans will try and draw the new lines to split districts with minority majorities so their political clout is minimized. Or they will pack minorities into a single district, so they would only have one representative in Congress instead of two.
Civil rights groups and grassroots activists are fighting to make sure community voices are heard and district lines are drawn fairly.

Author and activist, Roshawn Evans is the Co-founder and Organizing Director of Pure Justice in Houston, Texas.

“If we’re not holding people accountable they are going to run all over us and do whatever they want to do and our voice may not be as loud as it could be because we’re not emphasizing how important it is that our votes should count,” said Roshawn Evans, Co-founder of Pure Justice.
Pure Justice activists work on criminal justice issues and are organizing people to get involved in “drawing maps to keep communities together not split them apart”.
“You want to be involved not just at the state or congressional level but pay attention to the local level because that’s where it’s really going to impact everyone immediately,” said attorney Debbie Chen. She works with the Houston branch of the Organization of Chinese Americans.
Chen said that city councils and county commissioners are people who work with budgets funded by taxpayers and they also decide how federal dollars get spent locally. Every neighborhood gets $15,700 of federal money based on the census count every ten years.
Debbie Chen is an attorney who works for the Organization of Chinese Americans in the Greater Houston area.

“Census and redistricting they go hand in hand. It ultimately comes down to not just about electoral power. It’s about who gets the money that we all paid into and who gets to determine how that money gets spent,” she said.
For example, money has not been spent on flood control in Latino communities like Pasadena’s Northside. Pasadena is a Houston suburb that got 19 inches of rain overnight in August 2017 and the Northside was under 8 feet of water by morning. Thousands were evacuated. Whites in the southern part of Pasadena have better sewers and were not flooded out.
Chen said that’s why people should care if districts are going to be fair and equitable. She urges people to show up to testify when public meetings are called to redraw those boundaries.
“There are certain areas where there are no potholes, where street lights are always on. There are sidewalks. And then there are areas of the city that don’t have that.  We have open sewage lines. We call them ditches but really they are open sewers, no piping. Why is that happening in certain areas versus another? It all comes back to how our money is allocated and who is making the decision on how our money is spent,” Chen said.
Nina Perales is the Vice President of Litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF). After the 2010 Census, Perales successfully sued to redraw the election boundaries in Pasadena, a Houston suburb.

Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation, Mexican American Legal Defense & Education 
Fund (MALDEF), is a graduate of Columbia Law School and an election law expert. Like in Tennessee, legislative boundaries in Texas are drawn by the state legislature.
After the 2010 Census, the Latino population of Pasadena was split into two state house districts. Perales sued and argued that Pasadena’s Northside is one community.
“The lines were redrawn as a result of going to court and saying that the Northside of Pasadena ought to be kept together when these political lines were drawn,” Perales said.
That court victory had a direct impact in Pasadena’s next election. “The representative for the district who was Anglo and conservative lost his election and he was replaced by a progressive Latina women in the House of Representatives,” she said.
The MGGG Redistricting Group at Tufts University developed a free public web tool to help people imagine and draw their own district maps around their community. The tool can be accessed here: https://districtr.org.