20 Sep


Testimony Reveals Republican Redistricting Cmte Member Lied on House Floor

In April, during floor debate on the state house redistricting proposal, Republican State Representative and member of the House Committee on Redistricting Aaron Pena emphatically and repeatedly stated that he had no role in drawing the actual lines for the controversial district that was created for him in Hidalgo County. [1]

During last week’s redistricting trial, Ryan Downton, the House Redistricting Committee Counsel, testified [2] in open court that he worked with Representative Pena on the district lines after the first draft of the map was released. He then went on to say that Pena would identify specific neighborhoods that he believed were favorable to him so that Downton would include those in his district.

The incident Downton refers to in which he and Pena worked together to modify the initial configuration of state house district 41 occurred sometime between April 13 and April 19. [3]

Eight days later, on April 27, the state house map was debated on the House floor at which time Pena, in direct contradiction with Downton’s testimony, unequivocally stated he had no role whatsoever in the drawing of the actual lines for his district. As recorded in the House Journal, he said his only role was offering three broad suggestions. [4]

“Principles have never been Aaron Pena’s strong suit but this is a disgusting new low. He used his position on the redistricting committee to gerrymander his own district then lied about it on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives,” said Boyd Richie, Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party“Aaron Pena simply is not worthy of the privilege of public office.”

“I am extremely disappointed to learn that Aaron misrepresented the truth to me when I asked him if he had any input in drawing his district,” Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez stated. “After learning of Ryan Downton’s sworn testimony, it is now evident Aaron was not truthful on the House Floor. Aaron was elected as a Democrat to represent his constituents in Austin. He switched parties after he was elected, which was not fair to the people who elected him. Now, Aaron not only refused to speak the truth when asked if he was involved with the drawing of his district, he gerrymandered specific neighborhoods to favor him. His new district covers less than 2% of his old district. It is obvious he does not want to face the people who originally elected him in the upcoming election.”

In debate on the House floor and in media reports it has been noted that the redrawn house district 41 bizarrely comprises only 1.5% of the old HD41. In addition, it is underpopulated by about seven thousand people relative to the surrounding districts, all occupied by Democrats. The odd configuration and distribution of population are indicators of what is referred to as “packing”, in which Latinos are “packed” into the surrounding districts in order to achieve a political goal in HD41. This partisan gerrymander was confirmed by Downton’s testimony in which he was asked why the district was underpopulated relative to the surrounding districts and responded that making all the districts equal in population would have made it a Democratic district.

“We have a Republican member of the redistricting committee caught lying about his role in the drawing of a district so blatantly discriminatory that it could be used in textbooks to illustrate gerrymandering,” said Anthony Gutierrez, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “Simply put, Pena would not have lied if he had not done something wrong.”


[1] Two unedited excerpts from the April 27, 2011 Supplemental House Journal:
REPRESENTATIVE MARTINEZ: Did you have any input the way your district was drawn?
REPRESENTATIVE AARON PENA: No. When I met with the members what I said to you was, look I expect that the Republicans are going to maximize the conservative seats. That’s what I told you, you can recall that. And I said I will not draw this map because one, I did not want to be involved. And two, that I didn’t want to be involved in pairing or being involved in effecting my neighbors districts.
REPRESENTATIVE MARTINEZ: So, the drawing of your lines in your district you didn’t have any input in.
REPRESENTATIVE AARON PENA: No, I never even bothered to learn the red –
[2] Downton’s testimony as represented here is paraphrased from Anthony Gutierrez’ notes and is not verbatim. Official transcripts are available from the San Antonio Federal Court.
[3] Only one time period fits Downton’s description of events. As the state house map progressed through the legislature, the lines for state house district 41 were only changed once, between plan H113, which was the first plan made available to the public, and plan H153, which was the version that was voted out of committee. The state house map changed several more times but state house district 41 specifically did not change between H153 and the final enrolled version.
[4] Unedited excerpt from the April 27, 2011 Supplemental House Journal:
REPRESENTATIVE AARON PENA: I asked that my colleagues in the valley not be paired. I asked that the conservative members get a conservative district, and I asked that the other members represent the areas that they have. You getting the mid-valley. I asked that a senior member like Representative Guillen come in if there was spillover. I think that’s basically what I asked for.
McAllen Monitor: State Rep. Peña responds to redistricting-driven criticism
April 29, 2011 http://www.themonitor.com/articles/state-49756-rep-responds.html
Since the Republican-drawn map was released, Peña has repeatedly stated he was not directly involved in its drafting even though he is the only Valley representative to sit on the redistricting committee. But when Martinez asked the House redistricting chairman and vice chairman who drew the Valley’s map, neither one could answer. There’s something wrong there for a committee to approve such a measure and not even know who drew the lines,” Martinez said, adding that Peña’s claims of not participating seem absurd.

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