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Dear Friend,

I want to provide you a quick update on what’s happening with redistricting, voter ID, and some other important issues I have been working on in Austin and here in Houston.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Sincerely,

RODNEY ELLIS

REDISTRICTING (ALMOST) SOLVED

A San Antonio federal court handling litigation regarding Texas’ recent redistricting finally released the interim maps that will govern the upcoming congressional and legislative elections.

The court also announced that the primary will be held on May 29. There is still a chance, however slight, that the date could move again. The interim maps adopted by the San Antonio court have to get cleared under the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Department of Justice. Further, a dissatisfied party to the redistricting litigation could appeal and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the maps and the San Antonio court’s explanation for how they were drawn.

I believe the maps should have gone much further in reflecting the astounding minority population growth that Texas has experienced over the past decade, both in Houston and the remainder of the state. In the last decade, 89 percent of both Texas’ and Harris County’s population growth has been due to minority growth, yet the interim maps fail to fully account for this growth. Only one new real congressional minority opportunity district was created under the interim plan, despite the fact that nearly all Texas’ growth is due to minority — predominantly Hispanic — growth. And that was in North Texas, not Harris County.

It’s even worse in state legislative races. Nearly 90 percent of Texas growth is due to growing minority population, yet we gained no new seats in House and Senate. Texas is now 54.1 percent minority — and growing — yet only one-third of Texas legislative seats are minority opportunity districts. The math doesn’t add up.

It’s important that you tell your friends and family about the new May 29 primary date. My concern is that an odd date that has been in flux for so long will decrease turnout in our communities. I promise to do my part to keep you informed of any future changes.

US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REJECTS TEXAS’ VOTER ID LAW

On Monday, the US Department of JusticeVoting button rejected preclearance of Texas’ controversial voter ID law. While not unexpected — the Department had recently rejected preclearance of a very similar voter ID law passed in South Carolina — it is still welcome news. I applaud this decision because it will protect the right to vote of tens of thousands of legal Texas voters.

Last year, the Texas Legislature approved so-called voter ID legislation that will make it significantly more difficult for potentially over one million eligible Texas voters to exercise their right to vote. The legislation established some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation. The law — opposed by groups ranging from AARP to MALDEF to the NAACP and LULAC — requires voters to show picture identification in order to vote.

As you know, I vehemently opposed this measure.

There are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation, the only type of voter fraud that would be impacted by a voter ID requirement. After years of testimony and debate, supporters of Texas’ voter ID law still cannot prove their case that voter impersonation is even a minor problem in Texas. We, unfortunately, have plenty of evidence that it will disenfranchise legal student, elderly, African American and Hispanic voters. The Department of Justice saw that evidence and made the right decision

Under Texas voter ID law, all voters would be required to present one of the following forms of photo identification in order to be eligible to vote:

Driver’s license, election identification certificate, personal identification card, or concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety;
U.S. military identification card containing the person’s photograph;
U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph; or
U.S. passport.

With the exception of the U.S. citizenship certificate, all of the forms of identification must be current or have expired no more than 60 days before being presented at the polling place.

Throughout the preclearance process, Texas consistently failed to produce information showing the law would not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. The Voting Rights Act exists for this exact purpose: protecting the ability of all Americans to access the ballot box.

Of course, we’re not out of woods yet. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already filed suit in federal court to make voter ID the law in Texas. A three-judge panel will decide the matter and then the Supreme Court is expected to render final judgment.

TOLERANCE AND COMMON SENSE IN A CHANGING TEXAS

Texas is a diverse, rapidly changing state. Already a minority-majority state, Texas will be nearly 60 percent Hispanic by 2040. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, ethnically, culturally and religiously. We are truly a city of the world.

In last two weeks, the new and future Texas collided with the Texas of the past, shining the spotlight on our children, religion, athletics and what role the state has in ensuring fairness and tolerance in private institutions.

It began when the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) refused to reschedule the boys basketball semi-final playoff game to allow Robert M. Beren Academy, a Jewish private school in Houston, to compete and still observe the Sabbath. A small story where a private school chose to observe the tenets of their faith rather than play exploded into a full controversy when it turned out that the other schools participating in the playoffs had no problem accommodating Beren, and TAPPS had previously rescheduled a game for a Christian school. Fortunately, the courts stepped in and allowed Beren Academy students to continue their success on the basketball court. They may have lost in the finals, but they won so much more with their courageous stand.

Then, last week it was reported that TAPPS had rejected for membership the Iman Academy, an Islamic school in Houston. Those reports detailed some of the questions lobbed at school administrators, including one about the “Ground Zero” mosque, terrorists and their views on Christmas.

The students at Iman Academy simply wanted the opportunity to compete with their peers across the state, and I am deeply troubled not only by TAPPS rejection but the insensitivity with which it occurred. The decisions of groups like TAPPS can either reduce or further prejudice and discrimination.

Throughout history, athletic competition has played a huge role in bringing people together. From Jackie Robinson to Billie Jean King, Tiger Woods to Jeremy Lin, sports have helped us see the best in ourselves and the similarities we have with those of different backgrounds and beliefs. Even today, Hakeem Olajuwon – an African and Muslim – remains one of the most popular figures in Houston and all of Texas, which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. No law and no speech does more to unite people and teach the valuable lessons of community than competing on the playing field. The next revered superstar could be playing at Iman Academy, or Beren Academy. Or, more likely, two young people who have grown up distrustful of someone of another culture could meet on the court and gain more understanding and respect for their fellow person and neighbor.

That is what sports do for us.

Texas is an incredibly diverse and multi-cultural state, and is growing more so literally every day. These conflicts and confusions are only going to become more commonplace in the decade ahead as Texas grows and changes further. Now is the time for organization like TAPPS and others to put in place better and more open guidelines and bylaws to prevent further embarrassing and insensitive incidents that put them and Texas in a negative light.

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