Roll Over George Wallace

It’s important at the outset to establish some basic facts. The year is 2003, not 1953. Latinos are now the largest minority in Texas, not just a fringe hugging the border. Soon they will be the majority in the state.

Republican Governor Rick Perry has called the legislature into a special session on redistricting. That in itself is not surprising. Perry is a willing lapdog for U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land) and White House Svengali Karl Rove. But in Perry’s letter announcing the special session he writes: “Once legislators have begun their work on this important issue, I will consider expanding the call to other unfinished business from the 78th regular session, such as funding for the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) and Texas Tech medical school, and other matters.”

The facilities of which he writes are located in the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and El Paso. These areas have gone so far as to file lawsuits in their desperation to obtain local medical schools to meet the region’s dire health needs. They ask for nothing more than the same kinds of facilities that are funded and well-developed in other areas of the state with comparable population numbers.

Now allow us to translate: Perry is saying to border lawmakers, most of whom are either Latino or represent large populations of Latinos, that if they want funding for medical facilities they must vote the way he wants for redistricting. “If that’s not a veiled threat,” says Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) “I don’t know what is.”

This isn’t the first time Perry has held border legislators hostage for a vote. He tried the same tactic of using the RAHC as leverage for tort reform. But once tort reform passed, Perry decided he could get border legislators to jump a little higher. While other medical centers around the state received funding in the budget, Perry put money for the RAHC in his discretionary Enterprise Fund.

During the debate over this move, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) said: “Every other health science center in the state has a line item in the budget and comes down here and they go and get items put in, whether it’s for capital expenses or maintenance and operation or for new programming, but when it comes to these folks they are dependent on other political behavior. Can you imagine making that same requirement of the health science center in Dallas or the Texas medical center in Houston?”

Shapleigh berated Senate Finance Chair Teel Bivins (R-Amarillo), as he noted that for 50 years the border region has waited for the state to invest in its infrastructure. ” district does not even have a freeway, Senator, in the year 2003! For a million people, there is not a freeway down there. And when we look at a basic investment in a health science center, Eddie Lucio is going to be called to task in some other office, at some later part in the process on a $295 million enterprise fund, to see if he can come as a supplicant on that fund, and the question he is going to be asked is ‘how did you vote?’”

That time has arrived, and for many, the price is too high. “Rick Perry is now saying to the people of South Texas and the Border that we can have money for medical schools, but only if we’re willing to give up our voting rights,” says Rep. Richard Raymond (D-Laredo).

Isn’t it time for leaders like Rick Perry to start paying a political cost for treating Latino Texans as second-class citizens? —JB

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Published at 12:00 am CST