Protecting incumbents cited as factor in 14-1 Maps `drawn certain way' because of issue, Miers says
Published: MAY 25, 1991
Dallas City Council member Harriet Miers told a group of minority lawyers Friday that protecting council incumbents influenced the way boundaries were drawn under the 14-1 redistricting plan. "Incumbent issues caused the maps under consideration to be drawn a certain way,' Ms. Miers said during a luncheon sponsored by the Dallas Bar Association. "If we can take the issue of incumbency away, we could have a map in a New York minute.' Her remarks prompted some minority leaders to contend that the city sacrificed a fifth black district to protect incumbents under the 14-1 plan narrowly approved Monday. "That's reprehensible,' attorney Eric Moye said. "The notion that the protecting of incumbencies rises to the level of the voting rights of citizen s who have been denied their constitutional rights is obscene.' The plan approved Monday features four predominantly black districts, two Hispanic ones and two mostly white districts in Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove. The other six districts also are predominantly white. The mayor would be elected citywide. Ms. Miers was elected president of the State Bar of Texas May 2 and is not running again for City Council. She said after her presentation that the plan that was adopted "really didn't do violence to any incumbents.' Plaintiffs in the city's 3-year-old voting rights lawsuit, as well as the only two minority council members, favored a 14-1 plan that would have created five black districts.
Ms. Miers said protecting incumbents was a factor in the development of both the plan favored by plaintiffs and the one approved by council members. She said she voted against the plan favored by plaintiffs because it protected some incumbents and not others. "It protected everyone but (council member) John Evans,' who represents Pleasant Grove, Ms. Miers said.
The plan would have split Pleasant Grove among four black districts.
Minority leaders said they were outraged at the notion that the city would place the protection of white incumbents on the same level - as the protection of minority voting rights. To satisfy its obligations under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, they said, the city must maximize minority voting strength regardless of the effect on incumbent white council members. "It's unfortunate,' said lawyer Kevin Wiggins, a member of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board. "With this council, it seems the balance always weighs in favor of protecting incumbents or neighborhoods rather than minority voting rights.' Ms. Miers defended her decision to back the redistricting plan with four black districts.
She said the creation of a fifth black district was "one component of a very complex set of circumstances' that included the protection of incumbents and neighborhoods.
Ms. Miers said that throughout the redistricting controversy she did what she thought was right. She noted that she opposed the competing 10-4-1 plan even though that angered many whites.
Betsy Julian, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, said Ms. Miers' remarks represent a significant admission. Ms. Julian said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in a redistricting case involving the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that politicians could not sacrifice minority districts to protect incumbents. "In a political sense, incumbency is a legitimate issue, but protecting incumbencies should not take precedent over minority voting rights,' she said.
1991 Copyright The Dallas Morning News Company