February 10, 2011 | Kansas City InfoZine | Original Article

Hispanics Seek Greater Representation in 2011 Redistricting

“This isn’t about a Latino power-grab – this is about ensuring fair representation for all,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said at a news conference Tuesday.

In December, the U.S. Census Bureau released population data that determines how many congressional seats each state is entitled to. The bureau is releasing state-by-state data that will affect state and local electoral districts on a rolling basis through March.

National data isn’t available yet for 2010, but in 2009 the census said Hispanics made up 15.8 percent of the population, and blacks made up 12.9 percent.

An analysis of the Census bureau’s reapportionment data conducted by the NALEO Educational Fund found that states that are gaining congressional seats are doing so largely due to an increase in the Hispanic population. In Texas, the state gaining the most seats – four – the Hispanic population grew by 37 percent, while the non-Hispanic population grew by just over 10 percent.

The analysis also shows that in states that are not gaining or losing seats, the growth in Hispanic population has “helped minimize congressional losses.”

Hispanics should also be well represented in those states that are losing seats, Vargas said. Census numbers show that in three states that are losing seats, the Hispanic population grew while other groups showed minimal growth or shrank.

Vargas said his organization is committed to providing community leaders with the information they need to make sure Hispanics have a fair opportunity to elect officials of their choice. The NALEO Educational Fund will organize community leaders in California, Nevada and Florida, states it views as a priorities, he said.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits states from creating districts that discriminate against minority groups.

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, said his office is prepared to enforce the laws in this round of redistricting “independently, evenhandedly and fairly.”

Speaking at a luncheon held by the NALEO Educational Fund, Perez said that the Justice Department is committed to ensuring that redistricting doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a protected-language minority group.

“Not everyone will agree on where lines get drawn,” Perez said. “What is important, in my judgment, is that the plan that emerges is one that everybody can stand because they had the opportunity to be part of the process.”

Vargas said it is important for Hispanic citizens to be involved in that process and give a face to the census numbers.

“What we intend to do is ensure that whatever districts are created are not designed to benefit one party or another,” Vargas said, “but to provide Latinos their fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice without considering what the partisan outcomes may be.”