Legislative Talking Points

One of the most powerful tools in a democracy is the ability to have direct dialog with your elected officials.  Taking just a few minutes of your time to speak with them is one of the most important things you, as a constituent, can do.  You have the option to write, call, email, or schedule visits to your regional office.  If you do visit, consider bringing other constituents for an impact.  

Whether you write, call, or visit, give your name and where you live.  Ask for their support for redistricting reform, specifically co-sponsorship of bills to create an independent citizens commission for redistricting.  (Specific bills:  House of Representatives – HJR 32, HB 369; Senate – SB 209.)  Be prepared to offer the reasons you think would be the most convincing to your own legislator.

Do contact both your representatives and senators, whether they’re Republican or Democrat.  This is a bipartisan effort to create a bipartisan commission.  Regardless of their position, be polite and thank them for their time.

To help prepare you for engaging with your state Legislative officials, this document provides some talking points regarding redistricting and gerrymandering in Texas.  Choose the talking point that resonates the most with you when discussing this matter with your representative or senator.

Be prepared to give examples of the impact of gerrymandered districts in your own community, if you know of specific problems.  These might include fractured municipalities, where residents of a single city can’t be sure who represents them in Austin.  Or districts so elongated that they make it difficult for lawmakers and constituents to meet with each other.

If needed, look up your state Representative or Senator at the following link:  http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx.

 

Talking Points:

  • The most sacred principle of American democracy is that fair elections are supposed to allow the voters to choose their representatives, but Texans have long been denied true choice because elected officials have historically been able to draw district lines to choose their voters.
      • In the current legislative redistricting process, maps are passed as regular legislature with veto-authority by the Governor.  If the Legislature fails, a constitutionally-prescribed Legislative Redistricting Board — made up of the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, land commissioner, comptroller, and Attorney General — is formed to finish the job. (Ballot-o-pedia)
      • The proposed bipartisan citizen’s commission as part of HJR 32 shall have its membership composed as follows:
        • Two members appointed by the member of the Texas Senate with the most seniority, as defined by senate rules, from different political parties
        • Two members appointed by the member of the Texas House of Representatives with the most seniority, as defined by house rules, from different political parties
        • One member appointed by the Senate members of the commission
        • Two members appointed by the member appointed by the House commission, who must be retired judges appointed to the federal bench by presidents of different political parties.
  • Texas’s legislature has one of the highest incumbency rates in the nation – not because voters are happy with the quality of their governance – but because legislative districts are drawn to suppress the kind of competition that might otherwise allow talented newcomers to challenge the status quo.  Gerrymandered districts create safe districts that deprive voters of choice at the polls.
      • In the 2016 primary elections, 70.5% of incumbents ran unopposed in their party’s primary.  (Ballotopedia)
      • In the 2016 general election: Texas Senate races – 3 Democratic incumbents faced primary challengers while of the 20 Republican incumbents, no other party challenger; Texas House races, 8 of 51 Democratic incumbents faced primary challengers while of the 33 of 99 Republican incumbents faced primary challengers. (Ballotopedia)
      • Competitive elections are essential for government that is accountable to the voters.
  • The public face of partisan redistricting is the absurdly comical district maps that look like a bowl of chopped up spaghetti and make it difficult for many Texans to even figure out who represents them. The more sinister side of partisan redistricting is its’ use as a weapon to enforce party discipline among rank-and-file members. The very threat of redistricting can make a legislator more receptive to party leadership than to the will of his or her own constituents.
      • People in those jurisdictions find it difficult to know where to go for assistance.  
      • Legislators report excessive time driving between offices and meeting with their constituents or even knowing which citizens are their own constituents.
      • Politicians in safe districts have little incentive to work across party lines.  This creates the gridlock that has made it impossible to collaborate effectively on many issues of critical importance to Texas.
      • A survey by Harvard recently identified dysfunctional government as the leading cause of weak economic growth.  Redistricting reform was the top correction recommended in that survey.
  • Our current system undermines the principle of one person, one vote.
      • The situation leads to repeated court challenges as recent as 2016.
      • Given the recent case in a Wisconsin federal court that struck down the state’s partisan gerrymander, a similar suit has been brought in Texas and may be brought in Pennsylvania and Florida.

 

  • We can all agree on the merits of requiring districts to be contiguous, compact and more equal in population, but as long as those districts can be gerrymandered to favor or punish a particular political party or incumbent, they will never be fair. And, as long as legislators are drawing the district lines, the impulse to gerrymander will be irresistible.
  • I believe creating an independent redistricting commission is such an important and necessary first step towards restoring the public’s faith in the State Senate, the state legislature, and the political process.
    • Loss of confidence in our elections and leaders is detrimental to democracy.  Reform is needed so that our government truly is of, by, and for the people.
    • Any legislator considering statewide office should want to demonstrate any interest in a fair, transparent democracy that serves the needs of all Texas citizens, rather than a system that carves up communities for the benefit of one party.
    • As voters educate themselves on the structures of our democracy, they see the conflict of interest in our current system and question the intent behind our tortured district lines and look for leaders willing to correct this.
    • According to a Franklin & Marshall poll published in January 2016, more than four in five (82%) registered voters think that the state government needs to be reformed.  This sentiment is strongly held among voters of all parties (76% of Republicans, 86% of Democrats, and 88% of Independents).  Only one in seven (14%) registered voters believes that the state legislature is doing an excellent or good job.

 

DeGerrymander Texas, Austin, TX

For more information, email texasdgt2017@gmail.com or visit website degerrymandertexas.org/

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