BROWNSVILLE, Texas – State Rep. Alex Dominguez may or may not seek re-election to the Texas House of Representatives but that has not stopped him from denouncing changes to boundary lines in Cameron County.
An amendment by state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, filed just ten minutes before the deadline for offering amendments, radically redrew the boundary lines for the three Texas House seats in Cameron County. As a result, Dominguez’s District 37 seat went from being solidly Democratic and anchored in Brownsville to one that is competitive for Republicans and likely anchored in Harlingen.
The amendment, which was approved on a 72 to 70 vote, moved Dominguez’s home address to neighboring District 38, currently held by state Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-San Benito. However, Lucio has said he will be retiring at the next election. Dominguez could, then, be said to be the incumbent in District 38. But, there has been speculation that the Brownsville Democrat may not for re-election to the Texas House but instead turn his attention to Congressional District 34. The incumbent in CD 34, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, has announced he is retiring at the next election.
The Lozano amendment shrunk the geographical size of District 38 by packing in Brownsville voters. District 37, which is currently anchored in Brownsville, contains just a slither of Brownsville under the amendment. The amendment adds Harlingen to District 37, along with much of rural Cameron County, South Padre Island and Willacy County.
Lozano is a Republican from Kingsville, Texas. When he first entered the Texas House he was elected as a Democrat. However, he flipped after the last round of redistricting when his district was drawn to be majority Republican.
The Rio Grande Guardian called Lozano’s Capitol office to ask for an interview about his amendment to Cameron County’s boundary lines. Lozano did not call back at press time. During debate on the House floor, Lozano said he filed the amendment “because I can.” He said certain people in Harlingen had asked him to make changes to the proposed new House map and he listened. He did not give their names. He said with a retirement and talk of moving on among Texas House members from Cameron County, he saw an opening to make changes. He noted that his amendment continues to keep two House districts anchored in Cameron County.
Asked to respond to the Lozano’s amendment, Dominguez’s office provided the Rio Grande Guardian with this statement:
“Late into the night on October 12, 2021, Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville proposed an amendment to Chairman Hunter’s HB1 dealing with redistricting state House district boundaries in Cameron County to remove District 37 out of Brownsville into a gerrymandered blob curling from Southpoint north to SPI then west to most of Harlingen and north to Willacy County. This map would also zone San Benito into Oscar Longoria’s District 35 seated in Mission leaving almost all of Brownsville in District 38. Dominguez’s home would be zoned to District 38.
“This map was submitted ten minutes prior to the deadline and was never discussed with members who represent the affected districts which is not only the norm but considered a common courtesy. Representatives Alex Dominguez and Eddie Lucio III effectively questioned Lozano. During debate on the amendment, Lozano admitted he did not know the areas which the map affected, could name not a single person from Cameron County who asked for the changes, and admitted that he knew no one who wanted the changes from the Texas House. When asked why he sought the amended maps, he said “because he could.”
“After the debate and initial Record Vote, the amendment was adopted 73 to 69. Rep. Dominguez requested a record vote. Three members who voted could not be located including two Republicans and one Democrat. They had their votes struck. Three Republicans, including Hunter who were present but did not initially vote, added their vote for the amendment. One Democrat who was present but did not vote added her vote against the amendment. Two Democrats who voted for the bill changed their vote to be against it. Two Republicans, who voted against the amendment upon pressure from undisclosed phone calls, changed their vote to be in favor of the amendment. Despite several prominent Republicans supporting Dominguez and Lucio, the amendment was ultimately adopted at 72-70. One change in vote would have resulted in a 71-71 tie killing the amendment. This was the closest vote of the night.
“The resulting District 37 is considered a flip district now though historical data shows it would likely still vote Democrat. Moreover, the resulting district is now less Hispanic. District 38 has become an even more compact ‘Blue’ district with the packing done by the amendment. District 35 is now further gerrymandered and results in a resident from San Benito needing to drive through five other state house districts to visit the district office over an hour away.
“This is an example of the dirty side of redistricting: messing with other regions of the state despite the lack of any testimony requesting a change. Chair Hunter who previously said he would not be involved in supporting the amendment and did not vote for the amendment backtracked on his position.
“There is a federal lawsuit pending in District Court to block state house and senate redistricting as the Texas Constitution states that redistricting can only occur during a “regular” session and not a “special session” which this currently is. If successful, the state maps would be thrown out and drawn during the 88th Legislative Session in January 2023. There is currently no ruling.”
In a phone interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, also denounced the Lozano amendment.
“I wish it had been rooted in what is best for the people of Cameron County and their representation. The districts are not drawn with regard to communities of interest or the dynamics of colonias. There will be confusion on where people go to visit their representatives. The way they drew Oscar all the way to Brownsville, it is almost like strip annexing,” Lucio said.
“Not a single person from the Valley was consulted (on this amendment), to my understanding. He (Lozano) tried to reference that he had conversations with people in Harlingen. When I asked him specifically who he had a conversation with, he could not tell me who that was.
“He talked about his involvement in the area. He could not tell me who the stakeholders were in San Benito or Harlingen. It was filed without any regard to the people of those communities.
“J.M. is not a Valley member. His interests in the Valley ceased a decade ago when we did redistricting the last time. There was zero regard to what was right for the people of Cameron County. It is not a matter of Democrat or Republican. The maps should be drawn in a way where there is a strong representation for an area. If I were seeking re-election I would have been paired with Alex.
“I asked J.M. where this amendment was coming from and could we take about this. Could we negotiate. He would not have it.”
The “Oscar” Lucio talked about was state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya. Part of his District 35 currently stretches into Cameron County and picks up much of Harlingen. Under the Lozano amendment it excludes most of Harlingen but includes San Benito and some of Brownsville.
Longoria spoke to the Rio Grande Guardian about the Lozano amendment. He said:
“It has been an honor and a privilege to represent Cameron County. Every ten years we adjust maps based on population and growth. It is a hectic process. I do not agree with the maps. Both of those seats (District 37 and District 38) may be open seats. Let’s see what happens.”
Cameron County Republican Part Chair Morgan Cisneros Graham could not be reached for comment at press time. Jared Hockema, the chair of the Cameron County Democratic Party, did return a call for comment on the Lozano amendment.
“This is just another example of what the Republicans will do to low-income communities and communities of color in order to fulfill their political ambitions. They are misguided. President Trump’s success in South Texas in 2020 was an anomaly. District 37 will stay Democratic. You have San Benito in the district. You have Willacy County. You have Rio Hondo,” Hockema said.
Asked if it was right that a state Representative from Kingsville should be meddling in Cameron County’s political representation, Hockema said: “J.M. Lozano is the lowest of the low. We were glad to have rid of him in Cameron County ten years ago. He is a person without any values, a turncoat. This is the just the latest betrayal of the border and Cameron County by him.”
Hockema said he is not a lawyer and therefore could not say if the new Texas House map violates the Voting Rights Act as it relates to Cameron County. However, he did say it, “violates the spirit of the Voting Rights Act.”
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