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Rafael Anchia Ain’t Happy About the City Council Watering Down Redistricting Reform

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Talked to an exasperated Rafael Anchia this morning, who was still digesting that the City Council is set to ignore most of the redistricting recommendations suggested by the commission he chaired. You should read this story, but here is the bottom line:

In nonbinding straw votes, council members indicated they would not support putting on the November ballot a long list of new qualifications for future members of redistricting panels. The list proposed by the charter review panel included numerous provisions to eliminate potential conflicts of interest between redistricting commissioners and elected officials, lobbyists, campaign workers and people who do business with the city.

Also rejected were proposals to require that those who re-draw the City Council districts have knowledge of and support the Voting Rights Act; have voted in two of the past three City Council elections; and have knowledge and appreciation of the diverse racial and ethnic demographics in Dallas.

Remember: this came about because the last redistricting process was the most blatant example of backroom, last-minute political maneuvering we’ve seen here in a long time. The mayor said it made him feel “dirty.” Now, I’ve seen the suggestion that the redistricting rules the commission put forward aren’t necessary so long as we have a mayor who doesn’t get run over in that back room. Maybe. But why not make it so that the mayor’s backroom skill isn’t even an issue? Just because you think a strong-fisted mayor could handle the Council doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in place a redistricting process that takes away the option of council members drawing lines that serve their own self-interests.

As Anchia put it: “We need to get away from politicians choosing voters and get back to voters choosing their politicians.”

In fact, Anchia says that charter commission’s intent was that a Council pay raise (already approved by the Council to go on the charter ballot) was tied to the notion that they would also institute meaningful redistricting reform. “It was a package deal,” Anchia says. “And I do not think that watering down the major reforms we suggested, including redistricting, will be well-received by voters when it comes time to vote on their salary increase.”

Boom. Oh, and Anchia points out that if voters are angry enough, they may be able to force a referendum on redistricting reform that cuts out Council input completely. That’s what happened in Austin, he says, where voters passed redistricting reform over the entire Council’s objection — reform that has completely removed the Austin Council from even voting to approve a final redrawn district map. “To me,” Anchia says, “that’s the risk they’re taking.”