Deal with state, minorities could save April 3 primary date

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on February 6, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 6 at 7:46 PM

DALLAS — Texas may have a primary on April 3 after all.

Or at least sometime in April.

That's the word Monday from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said he reached a deal with most of the minority groups challenging the state's new districts for electing state lawmakers and congress.

The state and the nine minority groups fighting the election maps had until Monday to reach their own deal or the federal court in San Antonio hearing the case said it would scrap the April 3 primary date.

One reason this date is preferred is to keep Texas in the Republican presidential sweepstakes. But we're still not certain April 3 will hold.

With Monday's agreement, most of the groups that felt the maps drawn by lawmakers diluted minority voter strength now think there have been improvements for electing more Hispanics. But there is still no firm prediction from Abbott that the primary will remain on April 3.

"I believe the elections can take place in April," the attorney general said. "I can't necessarily say that April 3rd will be the date, but I feel very confident that we have a time frame to get it done so that elections could proceed hopefully on April the 17th."

What sweetened the deal for Hispanic groups was adding the first Hispanic opportunity congressional district in North Texas that would span Dallas and Tarrant counties. It would mean two of the four new congressional districts in Texas would favor electing Latinos.

But the Mexican-American and Black Legislative caucuses and the NAACP oppose the deal, meaning not all plaintiffs are on board.

Abbott hopes close is good enough. "So even though we don't reach complete agreement with all the parties, we believe that the agreement reached is substantial enough to give the San Antonio court sufficient guidance to move swiftly to finalize the maps in time for April elections," he said.

But close may not be good enough.

Although Abbott's deal is with the groups in the Latino Redistricting Task Force, it's not with everyone.

Late Monday, the federal court that must approve the deal pointed out there's no agreement with all the plaintiffs, so the talks should go on. That means the next court hearing remains February 15.

Why is that important? It takes up more time.

Even if there were election maps approved just after the 15th, it would make the schedule very tight to plan for an April 17 primary.

Additional delays could push the primary to May 29 or even June 26.

Abbott updated the court Monday night on progress. Still, no one is saying an April 3 primary is a safe bet yet.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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