Grassroots leaders in Texas reacted angrily to new evidence that Tom DeLay’s redistricting plan rammed through the Texas Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act in carving up the state to insure five additional Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Six lawyers and two analysts in the voting rights section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division drafted a 73-page memo dated Dec. 12, 2003, charging, “The state of Texas has not met its burden in showing that the proposed congressional redistricting plan does not have a discriminatory effect.” The memo, kept secret for two years, also found that Republican lawmakers knew it would dilute the African American and Latino vote in violation of “one person, one vote.”
The anger spilled into the streets, Dec. 5, when 300 protesters picketed a DeLay fundraiser at a posh Houston hotel with Vice President Dick Cheney the featured speaker. “Clean the House, dump DeLay,” they chanted. One protester carried a placard, “Put the Hammer in the slammer.”
DeLay, forced to step down as House majority leader, is currently on trial in Texas for money laundering in pushing his plan through. The presiding judge rejected DeLay’s plea for dismissal of the charges, although he reduced the charges from three to two. One DeLay aide pleaded guilty for his role in funneling $190,000 in corporate cash to TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee).
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), chairperson of the Black Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, told the World the memo confirmed her charge that DeLay’s plan violates the Voting Rights Act. DeLay is so ruthless, “he tried to get the FBI to come after us when we went to Ardmore, Oklahoma,” she said. She was referring to a walkout by Democratic legislators that temporarily blocked the DeLay plan.
“I think with all this money laundering going on it is a good time to talk about the violations of voting rights in this redistricting plan,” Thompson said. “I found it shocking, some of the companies that gave money to TRMPAC to push this plan through.”
An NAACP lawsuit is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, asking that the DeLay plan be overturned. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, told the World the leaked memo “cries out for a broad-based response from minority lawmakers and other defenders of voting rights. In Texas, they are turning the Voting Rights Act on its head. Our voting rights are in jeopardy.”
Richard Shaw, secretary-treasurer of the Harris County AFL-CIO, which includes Houston, said, “We knew that DeLay’s redistricting plan didn’t pass the corporate money smell test. Now we learn that with the obvious gerrymandering it didn’t pass the Voting Rights test either. This plan was like a coup d’etat, a takeover that was rammed down our throats here in Texas. It took out two members of Congress who were progressive Democrats and always stood up for workers and workers’ families, Chris Bell and Nick Lampson.”
Lampson is running in the Democratic primary in DeLay’s district and if he wins will challenge “the Hammer” unless, of course, DeLay is convicted and imprisoned. “Nick Lampson will get labor’s support,” Shaw said.
The memo, leaked to the Washington Post and reported in the paper’s Dec. 2 edition, cast a stark light on the central role of racism, and vote suppression, in the Republican drive for total power dating back to Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.”
Bledsoe said the NAACP was puzzled that the Justice Department was so tightlipped about the plan, subject to “pre-clearance” under the VRA. “Usually they will release a lengthy memo, but in this case there was just a summary statement that the plan should be allowed to go forward. We believed more extensive Justice Department documents existed and we attempted to secure the release of those documents.”
He added, “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that this plan was not in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. We took a delegation to Washington to meet with the Department of Justice and we filed a brief complaining that the proposed changes dilute the votes of minority voters.”
Paul Hill in Houston contributed to this story.