At Monday's redistricting hearing, Hispanics of diverse backgrounds and ideologies gathered together sending a message to City Alderman that we expect nothing less than equal representation. Groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Voces de la Frontera, and Hispanics for Leadership all testified that the changes in aldermanic redistricting should reflect the explosive growth of Milwaukee's Latino community. (For purposes of disclosure, I was among those who testified at the Monday hearing.)
Taking cue from County Board's failures, it appears that the city's Legislative Information Bureau anticipated some of the concerns in the Latino community. They drafted a redistricting map that increases the voting age population (VAP) of the 8th and 12th aldermanic districts. Hispanic groups fondly described the city's plan as a good first step, but urged the Common Council to consider more adjustments.
Notably, some of the deponents urged the council to let the 14th aldermanic district absorb the northern panhandle of the 13th district, which is densely populated with Latinos. This move would have the effect of consolidating more Latinos into the 14th district and creating a third majority district for Latinos in years to come. When speaking with Rich Watt of the city's Legislative Information Bureau, he intimated that widening the western border of the 14th district to absorb the 13th district's panhandle was not entirely out of the question. There is room for negotiation.
Concerning the County, the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP has reached out to the Latino community to assist with various redistricting efforts. Weeks ago, they drafted a county map that increased racial diversity within the same county districts. NAACP President James Hall and Political Action Committee Chairman Nathanial Holton stated that new thinking was necessary to bust Milwaukee out of his hardened political silos and racial segregation.
But this is not to say that the NAACP's county map is written in stone. NAACP's leadership believes it is necessary and is willing to endorse a county map that has two Latino majority voting-age districts.
"Hispanic activists dominated the committee's public hearing," said the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. They put aside differences in political ideology to fight for a more equitable redistricting map. Hispanic groups agreed that district lines should be drawn in a way to create more majority Latino districts in direct proportion to population increases published by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Hector Colon, Executive Director of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, remarked that due to significant growth in the Latino community, they wanted to see "a fair redistricting process that reflects this growth and affords the HISPANIC community the best ability to have our voice heard."
Jesus Salas, of Voces de la Frontera, urged the Common Council to beef up Hispanic majorities in the 8th and 12th districts closer toward the 70% mark. Salsas' performance, along with LULAC Director Darryl Morin's, was among the more rationally persuasive appeals to the committee.
Hispanics for leadership, a newer and smaller group, suggested keeping the 8th and 12th districts closer to the 60% VAP mark in order to bolster a third Latino district toward the 50% mark. The idea is that if we draw district lines increase the 8th and 12th districts near 70%, a projected population growth of 44% (over a 10 year period) would create an over-clustering effect in just a few years. Such compactness would end up diluting voter power. Ultimately, what matters most is that the Hispanic community receives equal representation, which all Latino groups at the hearing want and support.
As Hispanic community activists begin to rally around city and county redistricting, Milwaukee's political dynamics will begin to change. The Hispanic community, a sleeping giant in its own right, has yet to make their presence felt in a demonstrable way. Latinos, more now than ever, have a historic opportunity to stand side-by-side with African-Americans in their fight for citizen equality. Let our unity of interests demonstrate to the County Board the sinew of our resolve; we're not going away, that much is clear.
On the city front, it appears that Aldermen are taking the appropriate steps to incorporate changes that reflect important concerns of the Hispanic community. Monday's showing of "Hispanic activists" demonstrated that some in our community are aware of how important redistricting is. Moving district lines just a single mile could be the difference between Latinos getting or not getting to elect the Alderman of their choice. Borders matter. Districts matter. Monday's showing sent a message to the city that the shenanigans of the County Board will not be tolerated anywhere else.