|EDINBURG, June 12 - U.S. Rubén Hinojosa wants the legislature to create an additional congressional seat in Hidalgo County during the current special session on redistricting.
The Mercedes Democrat believes the population of the Rio Grande Valley is growing so fast that the region deserves three congressional seats, one anchored in Cameron County and two anchored in Hidalgo County.
Currently, the Valley only has two congressional seats anchored in the region. To have three, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, would likely have to their congressional districts move out of Hidalgo County.
Hinojosa gave testimony on his proposals when the Senate Committee on Redistricting met in Corpus Christi last Friday. This is what he said:
“The population of the Rio Grande Valley (made up of Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy) has grown over 40 percent in Census 2000 and over 30 percent in Census 2010. According to the Census, Hidalgo County has grown another four percent in 2012. Currently more than a million and a half people reside in the four county region. Its growth and the growth of the Hispanic population in general has been a major factor in Texas receiving four new seats. Yet over the past two decades and through numerous redistricting efforts, it has not gained any additional Congressional representation.
“The current interim map, while better than the map passed by the legislature, still does not give our region an additional seat. It only re-numbered Congressman Solomon Ortiz’s old district from Brownsville to Corpus Christi. It does not provide any additional representation to the people of the Rio Grande Valley, particularly in Hidalgo County.
“McAllen-Edinburg-Mission MSA consistently ranks among the top 10 fastest growing regions of the nation. Over the next 10 years, every indication is that its population will continue to grow at 30 to 40 percent. Hidalgo County now has almost 850,000 residents and only anchors one congressional district.
“It is painfully wrong and it seems to me and community leaders that it is illegal to deny this fast-growing region additional representation. Think about it. We have the same number of two Congressmen anchored in Deep South Texas for 40 years, since 1973!
“The interim map under consideration by this committee continues to divide Hidalgo County into three sections and split communities of interest all along the border. It divides communities like Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, Mission and San Juan. In fact, it divides the Anzalduas International Bridge between me and Congressman Cuellar. It forces people in the suburbs of San Antonio to be represented by a Representative from the Valley, 250 miles away!
“The people of the Rio Grande valley have waited too long and too many years to get the federal representation they deserve. This committee should not make them wait any longer.
“If you can see your way clear to anchor two congressional seats with over 400,000 constituents in Hidalgo County, as well as anchor one congressional seat with over 400,000 constituents in Cameron County, justice will be restored.”
Attorneys for Hinojosa made a similar argument during the redistricting hearings at the state Capitol in 2011 and in the various redistricting trials that followed adoption of the legislative maps. However, rather than approve a plan that provided for three congressional seats anchored in the Valley, both the legislature and a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio tweaked the maps that were already in existence for South Texas.
The Corpus Christi to Brownsville district was renamed District 34. It used to be District 27. And, instead of being anchored in Nueces County, it was anchored in Cameron County. Attorney Filemon Vela won the new CD 34 in 2012. And, Congressman Cuellar saw his CD 28 lose some of the area it had in western Hidalgo County.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, sits on the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. He was at the Corpus Christi hearing last Friday to hear Congressman Hinojosa make his pitch for an additional congressional seat for South Texas.
Sen. Hinojosa told the Guardian that different communities have different needs when it comes to congressional representation. He said the main skirmishes on congressional districts are taking place in Dallas, Houston and, to a lesser extent, Travis County.
“For us here in South Texas we are pretty much set in our lines. I know Congressman Hinojosa is pretty passionate and would like to see three congressional seats based in the Rio Grande Valley because of our rapid population growth. The problem is there are issues up in Corpus Christi. We may shift the population up north whereby they may end up winning and putting a candidate in office. These are issues we need to work out,” Sen. Hinojosa said.
Sen. Hinojosa said South Texas has three members of Congress to look after its interests in Washington – Reps. Hinojosa, Cuellar and Vela. “There are issues among them (on redistricting). We just want the congressional maps that are drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act and provide proper representation to minorities, especially the Latino population, which is the fastest-growing segment of the population. We feel the federal court was correct when it found intentional discrimination by the legislature this last session in terms of the congressional maps that were drawn,” Sen. Hinojosa said.