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As Houston's Hispanic population grows, there's a push to get more representation

Nick Natario

ABC 13News

Jul 20, 2022

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As Houston city leaders get closer to finalizing the new district maps, some worry it's not enough to bring new Hispanic representatives.

There's not much time before the districts used to make up Houston's districts are set in stone. Before they are, neighbors packed the council chamber on Wednesday, with some expressing frustration.

"These are term limits," one person told councilmembers. "Enjoy your tenure."

Every 10 years, the city creates new district maps based on census data. Figures that show nearly half of the population are Hispanic, but there's only one Hispanic council member.

"They tout us as the international city in the United States, yet we have failed representatives as far as numbers are concerned in relation to population," LULAC Council 60 president Al Castillo said.

To fix this, members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) asked the council to move around parts of two other districts, which may boost the number to three Hispanic representatives.

"Our main concern is not robbing Peter to pay Paul and bringing voters in and out of our district," Castillo explained.

As the council considers changes, Mayor Sylvester Turner took exception to some saying Hispanic voices aren't represented.

"This mayor has placed Hispanics at the highest level," Turner said. "You've had a police chief and a fire chief, Hispanic. All at the same time."

This was the last July public hearing on the proposals. The process started in March, when city leaders held community meetings to discuss the new districts.

"I'm not a fan, I've said it before, of several of the maps that they've done. But the fact you gave us the illusion of inclusion was a start in the right direction," Houston resident Tomaro Bell said.

Political experts say there's a reason why the proposed maps don't look too different from the current map.

"What will generally happen in this redistricting process is the current people in power will design those districts to keep those same people in power," Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, explained.

Jones said another way to get more Hispanic leaders is to eliminate the five at-large seats.

"Houston remains the only major city in Texas that still elects city council members at-large," Jones said. "There's criticism because no Latino has been elected citywide since 1999."

Castillo and others also expressed frustration over at-large seats to council on Wednesday.

"This is hot on the burner," Castillo said. "This is going to happen. I'm glad the public has come out in numbers to voice their concerns."

But others aren't ready to get rid of the positions.

"The at-large people don't have a problem standing up because their constituency is equal to the mayor's," Bell said. "Think about it. They have to win across the whole city. So, they're likely to stand up."

The fight over at-large seats might take years, but the new district maps won't take as long. Neighbors can submit their own proposals through next Friday. Council is set to vote on them in September.