Nearly two hours into the House’s marathon budget debate this spring, a conversation about funding the state’s future U-turned toward the past. Triggering the about-face: the issue of redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries to address population changes. State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, laid out an amendment seeking to bar Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office from using more taxpayer money to defend a congressional map that a court had just declared unconstitutional — ruling that it was intentionally drawn to discriminate against minorities. Paxton’s office had already spent millions of dollars on the case. As he explained his amendment, Turner called Texas the “worst of the worst” voting rights violators. The Republican-dominated chamber was destined to table the amendment, pushing it to a pile of Democrats’ other long-shot proposals. But first, Rep. Larry Phillips strolled to the front mic to defend his colleagues — past and present.
“I voted for those maps. I didn’t intend to discriminate,” said Phillips, a veteran House Republican and a member of its redistricting committee in 2011. “I want the attorney general to still fight for those of us that felt like we were doing the right thing for Texas under the Constitution, under the law, and join me in showing that we did not discriminate.”
Scattered applause echoed in the chamber. As Phillips turned toward his desk, Rep. Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat from Eagle Pass, stopped him with a pointed question from the back mic.
“Larry, do I have to bring the emails that the federal judge perused to come to a ruling so we can talk about what the intent was by the authors and the people working on the bill?” he asked, referring to emails revealed through a court case that pulled back the curtain on some redistricting deliberations.