LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) Houston recently held a town hall meeting seeking to garner support for their effort to restructure the make-up of Houston City Council.
Currently, City Council is made up of 16 councilmembers, 11 of which are elected to geographic districts of roughly the same proportion of population size. The other five members are elected to At-Large (citywide) seats.
LULAC, as an organization, along with several other individuals, assert that the current makeup of City Council (six Blacks, eight whites and two Latinx) leaves Houston’s Latinx community grossly under-represented. For, according to U.S. Census and government data, that ratio of 45% of the Houston population being Latinx, yet only 6% of City Council is Latinx, ranks Houston as worst among the state’s largest cities (cities with 500K-plus residents) regarding Latinx representation.
The Defender got an exclusive interview with LULAC spokesperson Diane Olmos-Guzman, about the town hall and its goals.
DEFENDER: What was the focus of the town hall?
DIANE OLMOS-GUZMAN: It was to inform the community about the issue, or rather LULAC’s call for equal representation on city council with 16 single member districts. The reason why we are promoting and supporting to have a referendum and/or support from city council to change the city charter for single member districts only, because we feel that this is the only way Latinos can possibly get equal representation on city council, being that we only have one Latino from a predominantly Hispanic district. We, the Latinos, are 45% in Houston’s population with only one representative on council. So, with LULAC, District 8 and District 18 have come together to form a task force on redistricting and also receiving parity for equal representation. We believe that we provide millions if not billions of dollars to the city coffers. Yet, we receive little-to-no representation for our services, and city services, infrastructure and other opportunities that other neighborhoods and communities receive.
DEFENDER: Why hasn’t it (the equal representation) happened already?
OLMOS-GUZMAN: This issue has been tossed around since 1973, when a prominent Hispanic attorney, Frumencio Reyes, filed the lawsuit for single member districts. It went back and forth, back and forth. It even went to the state legislature for support. We ended up with a lawsuit and the lawsuit was very well-pronounced, and we had quite a bit of support. However, the end result of it, we received a commitment for a referendum in the late 90s. However, city council remiss in putting the referendum on the agenda. So, it never got passed. We never received parity. And as a result, we have not been able to elect our own in At-Large seats since former Councilwoman Gracie Saenz was elected 30 years ago.
DEFENDER: Can you share a word as to why the Black community should be behind this LULAC effort?
OLMOS-GUZMAN: We need the African-American community’s support in that (all single-member districts) also benefits the African-American community. We have many, many neighborhoods that are in very deplorable conditions. Why? Because the At-Large council members only deal with policy. They do not work with constituent complaints, issues or concerns. Therefore, a single-member district representative is one who lives in the neighborhood, knows of the problems, knows of the potholes and the broken sidewalks and the poor services, garbage collections and what have you. Only a person who is knowledge and sensitive to its own community can very well represent its constituents on city council.
DEFENDER: What is the ultimate goal from the gathering?
OLMOS-GUZMAN: To provide enough to gather the support that is needed to awaken the sleeping giant, which is in the Latino population. We’ve been dormant for a long time and it’s time that we start receiving parity in the sense of equal representation.