February 15, 2011 | LATINA | Original Article

Latino Leaders Raise Awareness of Congressional Redistricting

It’s time for Latinos to put on their boxing gloves and get ready to fight: It’s redistricting time and the stakes for our political clout have never been higher —say Latino leaders.

“Because of the size of the Latino population, this redistricting will determine the political destiny of Latinos for the next 10 years,” says Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, research and advocacy for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. “We need to make sure that our growth in population translates into political opportunities.”

In the past decade 85 percent of the country’s growth has come from minorities, mostly from Latinos. But the question in many Latino leaders’ minds is whether we will be fairly represented as states redraw the districts, a process which can turn political and ends up in court more often than not. The Democratic and Republican parties and a host of interest groups will want to have a say in how districts are divvied, as well as incumbents who may fear that a change in their district would mean and end to their careers.

The census bureau has already started its gradual release of detailed state-by-state population data, which will give states a clear idea of how their residents are distributed—which cities and counties have seen population surges and which have seen decreases. States will then use the data to redraw city council and school districts, and perhaps most importantly, congressional districts.

So far, info for Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia has been released. Expected this week: Data for Latino-heavy Texas, which saw 20 percent growth in its population, mostly due to Latinos.

The goal for Latinos, Gold says, is to make sure we’re at the table when the conversations take place by attending hearings and contacting the people making the decisions (usually the state legislature). We need to make sure that Latino voting blocs are not weakened, by, for example, dividing Latino communities with similar interests and concerns into different district where they would make up a smaller percentage of the population, thereby having less of an impact in elections, Gold says.

Expect the biggest battles to happen in states whose rise in population has resulted in more Congressional seats: Texas will get an additional four seats, Florida two, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington, will each get one.

Latino organizations have already started talking about how to increase awareness of the redistricting process.

“This is something we always need to keep an eye on, especially because of the partisan issues at stake here,” Gold says. “Both parties whent hey try to figure out how to use redistricting to their advantage, they may do so in a way that hurts Latino voting power.”