Thursday, December 01, 2005

Perry accused of neglecting Latino voters

11/30/2005 12:00 AM CST

by Gary Scharrer
S. A. Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry is disrespecting Hispanics by keeping a minority state legislative seat vacant for seven months while calling a quick special election to fill a vacant Austin seat for an overwhelmingly Anglo district, some lawmakers said Tuesday.

Perry has called a special election Jan. 17 to give West Austin residents a voice in the Texas House of Representatives. Former Rep. Todd Baxter, a Republican, resigned from the District 48 seat Nov. 1 to become a lobbyist for the Texas Cable and Telecommunications Association.

An inner-city Houston seat has been vacant since May 6, when Rep. Joe Moreno, a Democrat, was killed while driving his pickup to Austin. Perry waited until this month to hold a special election to fill Moreno's District 143 seat. A runoff election next month will determine the winner.

"It really shows a very basic and fundamental disrespect for the needs and concerns of Hispanic Texans," said House Mexican-American Caucus Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

A spokeswoman for the governor said state election law dictated the timing for a special election to replace Baxter.

Houston residents have been deprived of representation, including during two special sessions this summer for public school funding and tax issues, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a leader among African American lawmakers. "They just don't like it," he said of Houston residents. "They believe that they were treated shabbily."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said any assertion involving mistreatment of minorities is "a false issue."

Perry scheduled a November special election for Moreno's seat before he knew the Legislature's failure to address school funding would force him to call special summer sessions, Walt said. "Once the election date was set, it could not be rescheduled," she said.

A uniform election date in September could not have been used because that date could not have accommodated a runoff, if one had been necessary, Walt said.

A ruling by the Texas Supreme Court last week gave lawmakers until June 1 to fix school funding problems. That ruling, Walt said, obligated Perry to call a special election for Baxter's seat.

Perry's conduct is influenced more by politics than public policy, Gallego said. "His decisions just seem to spiral downward. He's becoming more and more blatantly political."

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