Settlement talks under way in Texas redistricting

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by PAUL J. WEBER

Associated Press

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 5:13 PM

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Texas attorney general and lawyers for minority groups were in talks Friday to hammer out a settlement on how to draw the state's political maps.
 
State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said Attorney General Greg Abbott approached his group to make a serious attempt to reach a compromise that would keep the state's primary vote on April 3.
 
"This is the first effort that's been made to have a discussion," Fisher said in San Antonio, where a federal court is considering claims the maps drawn by the Legislature are discriminatory. He said the strong evidence present this week in a Washington courtroom could be driving the state's readiness to compromise on new maps.
 
The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
 
Minority groups want congressional and legislative maps that reflect the increase in minorities living in Texas, something they say the Legislature's maps do not do. Republican lawmakers say they drew new maps to benefit their political party, not to discriminate against minorities.
 
A three-judge panel in San Antonio cautioned this week that the April primary date only would work if all sides agree on temporary political maps by a Feb. 6 deadline. But until the talks were announced Friday, that scenario appeared unlikely.
 
The long-running dispute over the maps has volleyed between the San Antonio federal court and another in Washington, which is trying to determine whether the lines drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act. Two weeks of testimony in the Washington trial ended Thursday, and closing arguments are set for Tuesday.
 
The Washington panel has given no indication on when it might make a ruling.
 
The San Antonio court had previously drawn interim maps but those were thrown out last week by the U.S. Supreme Court, which said 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.
 
Abbott had asked the San Antonio court to quickly draw temporary maps so that Texas can still hold its primary. Minority groups, meanwhile, asked for more time to explain what they think the maps should look like.
 
At issue is how the maps, drawn last year by Republicans in the Legislature, treat minorities. Republican leaders say the maps merely benefit their party's candidates, but minority groups claim they discriminate by diluting minority voting power. Texas must redraw political districts every 10 years to adjust for population changes.

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