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Republicans to Eric Holder: Don’t Mess With Texas on Voting Rights

Republican members of the Lone Star State House delegation made their position clear to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Thursday: Don’t mess with Texas.

They also had another message for the head of the Justice Department: he might have just poisoned the well of future bipartisan House efforts to update the Voting Rights Act before the end of the 113th Congress.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, said.

Texas lawmakers’ ire arose after Holder’s announcement Thursday morning that his agency would join a lawsuit asking a federal court to force Texas to submit to a “preclearance” system, meaning the state would need DOJ approval before enacting any changes to its voting rules and regulations.

Texas, along with all or parts of 15 other states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls, had been subject to such a preclearance regime under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court struck down that provision on June 25, saying the formula used to identify covered states was outdated and arbitrary.
The court said that the House should rewrite that formula for the 21st century, a premise Democrats have embraced along with some Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said the announcement doesn’t change the majority leader’s commitment to addressing the issue head on.

“[He] continues to have conversations with members to find a workable solution moving forward,” Heye said.

Barton ripped Holder’s decision to single out Texas.
“There is no reason for it,” he said. “African-Americans voted in a higher percentage in Texas than Anglos do. You look at the demographics of the state and demographics of Congressional districts, African-Americans reflect the population, as do the Hispanic district.

“I was a child of the ’60s, so I absolutely know personal knowledge of what discriminatory practices were in the ’60s, but the Texas of today, [we] want every citizen, regardless of race, creed or color, to register to vote,” Barton continued. “I beg Hispanics and African-Americans to vote.”

“Texas has a long-standing track record proving we work hard to ensure fair and open elections,” Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s decision on June 25 to overturn the preclearance provision made it clear that the law should not single out specific states for excessive treatment. Texas does not need the Federal government, especially Eric Holder, telling us what we can and cannot do with our voting laws.”

“Quite frankly, I think it violates equal protection … and if we’re serious about this, we should put every state under it,” added Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “I’m really looking forward to the day when our country can step beyond using race as an issue all the time. I mean, when are we going to get to the point where all men and women are created equal and it doesn’t matter what color your skin is and where you’re from?”

Republicans also believe the Obama administration is targeting Texas for political gain.

“I can hope this is not just a political statement, that again he’s trying to make political hay,” said Republican Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford, R-Okla. “I tell you, the people of Texas feel that this administration has been targeting them over and over again, that part of the Democrats’ political strategy is to turn Texas [from] red to blue.”

“The Administration is once again deliberately attempting to push its political agenda by selectively targeting Texas,” said Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, in a statement.

“Texas doesn’t agree with him on anything so we don’t expect anything decent nor legal out of him,” Rep. Ralph M. Hall, R-Texas, added.

Texas Democrats, meanwhile, welcomed the announcement from Holder and said they hoped it would spur congressional action on the revising the Voting Rights Act.

“Today’s decision by the Department of Justice upholds the rights of all Texans to cast their vote freely,” said freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro in a statement. “This decision also gives Congress time to come to a consensus over how to move forward and ensure that no American is subject to the narrow and discriminatory agenda of partisan politicians. Congressional gridlock must not set back the clock on years of progress.”

Fellow freshman Beto O’Rourke agreed, acknowledging that the path forward could be difficult.

“You always want to work on a bipartisan basis, but the redistricting process [in Texas] is anything but bipartisan,” he said, “which sees the effects in the outcome of elections and ability to chose representatives that truly reflects the makeup of the community.”