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MALDEF's Lawsuit Is Racially Divisive

November 01, 2001|MARTHA ESCUTIA and GLORIA ROMERO | Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) represents the 30th District, and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) represents the 24th District in the state Senate

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund's lawsuit challenging the recently redrawn boundaries for congressional and state Senate seats is frivolous and racially divisive.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn a bipartisan redistricting plan that took special care to respect the rights of minorities.

Thirteen seats (seven state Senators; six members of Congress) currently held by Latinos are maintained or strengthened, and a new heavily Latino congressional district is created in Los Angeles County. In addition, voters in two state Senate districts (and possibly three) held by white term-limited senators will, in all likelihood because of increased Latino and Democratic voting strength, elect Latinos in 2002.

Why would MALDEF complain about this? The organization disputes only three (out of 93) districts: a San Diego congressional seat that MALDEF explicitly endorsed in a letter to legislators, a state Senate seat that MALDEF representatives verbally approved and the San Fernando Valley district of Rep. Howard Berman.

MALDEF claims that Berman's 55.6% Latino district is not "Latino enough." But the voters in the new Berman district have demonstrated a willingness to support progressive candidates of any race. Residents in the areas that comprise the new district voted for Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor and for Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in the recent Los Angeles city election and voted overwhelmingly for Cruz Bustamante for lieutenant governor.

More and more, California is reaping the benefits of multiracial coalitions. The voice of Latinos in California is stronger because electoral politics and issues are no longer just about race.

The elections of State Sens. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) and Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) in non-Latino areas demonstrate that a strong Latino candidate need not have a district packed with Latino votes.

Issues of concern to Latinos--whether access to health care, better schools, better jobs or cleaner air--are not just Latino issues. They affect everyone and can be voiced by any legislator responsive to his or her constituents' needs.

Of the state's 26 Latino legislators--elected representatives of Latinos and non-Latinos alike--23 voted for the redistricting plan.

MALDEF submitted its own redistricting plan to the Legislature. The plan was found lacking in how it dealt with both Latinos and non-Latinos.

It jeopardized the congressional seats of many female elected officials.

MALDEF's state Senate proposal diluted the districts of several Latina legislators and cut one out of her own district, pitting her against another Latino.

This move could have reduced the number of Latina legislators.

MALDEF fixates on numbers, ignoring the advances in the redistricting plan.

By strengthening the Latino districts and locking in the Democratic majority in the state Senate and congressional delegation, our legislators can continue to lead the fight on issues such as immigrant rights, consumer protection and advancements for farm workers.

In the era of term limits, Latinos need not limit themselves to only seeking office in "safe" Latino districts. We should not relegate ourselves to only a few court-imposed barrios.

Our success lies in proclaiming that the Latino agenda is (and should be) the American agenda. No one holds a monopoly on this message.

But, ultimately, we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way--they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old-fashioned way: by earning them.

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