Thank you very much. My name is Michael Seifert. I am testifying on my own behalf. A tip of the hat to Senator Lucio and Senator Hinojosa who have represented the Rio Grande Valley in such a great way for so long. 

I am a property owner. I live in Brownsville, Texas. My home is a ten minute drive from an international bridge into Mexico and 40-minute drive to South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. 

My home was built in 1928 and has withstood nearly a century’s with of hurricanes and torrential rains. My wife is a physician working for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. We both dedicated our lives in the service of people who live in what are known as colonias – some of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. 

Some of these people make do with a per capita income of less than that of El Salvador. I count many of these folks as friends and can testify to their goodness, their strength and their witness to the power of a community that shares common interests. 

Our region celebrates high school graduation rates on a par with any other school district in Texas. But, many of our graduates accomplish that milestone living in homes that did not offer them even a desk to study on much less the privacy of their own room. 

They worked out their capitalist problems at a kitchen table in the middle of a typical uproar of a family. They figured out the landmines of high school social life even as their parents often had to choose between paying this month’s rent or buying grandma’s diabetic medications. And even with this they thrived. This is my community. On the border, by the sea, poor, proud and intentional in forging a new future for their children. 

We need the right to elect people who can focus on our issues and needs. The present election maps, however, do not respect this right or our needs. 

Our congressional representative, for example, must tend to our needs as well as those who live in Gonzales in Bee County. Those places are near no border, nor the sea. They have their own struggles with poverty but that poverty has a different face and needs a different kind of advocacy than ours. Both communities deserve effective representation that can respond to those needs.

In closing, I offer three specific requests for the committee. Because of COVID and the late reporting on the 2020 Census, the process has changed. However, any fair or open process should at the very least include the ability for public comment before a map is passed to a final vote of the legislature. 

Second, your committee needs to ensure that there is sufficient time and technical capability for alternative proposals to be examined which can help demonstrate flaws in proposed maps. 

Third, my unfortunate experience is that legislators can try to hide behind various exceptions to the public information act to shield communications from the public. Given the right for our community to choose our candidates for public office legislative privilege should not be invoked when it comes to drawing maps. Any politician that wishes to have their map considered should be fully open and transparent about how and why they created their maps. 

Thank you for your service and for hearing my testimony. 

Editor’s Note: The above commentary by Rio Grande Valley community leader Michael Seifert was delivered as testimony before a virtual Senate Special Committee on Redistricting on Feb. 2, 2021.

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