Texas redistricting talks stall

Travel deals

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN ANTONIO -- Negotiations between minority groups and Texas officials in a lengthy clash over new political districts appeared stalled Monday as both sides prepared to argue in Washington over whether the Republican-drawn maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

An attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of nine groups suing to block the maps, said negotiations to create temporary maps so Texas could salvage an April 3 primary date hit an impasse over the weekend. Both sides have another week to work out a deal, but Luis Vera, LULAC's general counsel, said he was not optimistic.

"It just doesn't seem feasible," he said.

A federal court in San Antonio last week gave the sides until Feb. 6 to draw up the temporary maps that would remain in place through November's election. If they don't, Texas' primaries will be pushed back for a second time. They were originally scheduled for March.

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office, said her office was not commenting on the negotiations.

Vera said a major obstacle is that the state isn't involving all parties in the negotiations. Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP that is among the nine plaintiffs, said the state was mainly negotiating with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

Bledsoe said unanimous agreement among the nine isn't required for the court to accept a deal. He believes that while there is a "reasonable chance" the state could work out a deal with two or three of the groups, odds are longer of getting total consensus.

Vera has been among the most vocal proponents of simply waiting for a Washington federal court to rule on the separate issue of whether the original maps violate the Voting Rights Act.

States typically redraw their political boundaries every 10 years based on population figures from the census. Texas is one of nine, mostly Southern states that require "preclearance" from the U.S. Justice Department when changes to electoral maps are made.

At issue is how the Texas maps treat minorities. Republican leaders say the maps merely benefit their party's candidates, but minority groups claim they discriminate by diluting minority voting power. One major issue has been whether the maps fairly account for the surge in Hispanic population in Texas over the last decade.

Closing arguments in the Washington trial are set for Tuesday. Many of the principal negotiators involved in the interim map talks traveled to Washington on Monday to prepare for that case.

The three-judge panel in Washington has given no indication on when it might rule.

The San Antonio court had previously drawn interim maps while the Washington trial took place. The U.S. Supreme Court threw them out earlier this month, saying the San Antonio court did not show enough deference to the map crafted by Texas lawmakers and adjusted parts of the map where there was no Voting Rights Act argument.

Before the San Antonio court last week gave both sides an additional 10 days to hash out a compromise or forfeit an April 3 primary date, Texas Republican Party chairman Steve Munisteri said conservative minorities would be disenfranchised if the primary is delayed again.

The later Texas' primaries are held, the less influence the state is likely to have on who emerges as the Republican presidential nominee.

"If we're talking about minority rights, what about Hispanic Republicans?" Munisteri told the court during Friday's hearing.

If the April 3 date is postponed, Democrat and Republican party leaders say an April 17 primary would be possible if temporary maps are in place by mid-Februrary.

By Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber.

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