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September 5, 2015

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Nevada Wonk

Latino leaders come up with their own plan for redistricting

A group of Latino activists who say they are fed up with both parties trying to speak for them released on Friday a congressional redistricting plan of their own.

It closely resembles the map submitted by Democrats but includes a few changes the activists say help level the political playing field for Hispanics.

The Nevada Latino Redistricting Coalition's proposal focuses solely on the 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Rep. Joe Heck. It changes the district from Democratic-leaning purple to strong blue.

Under the plan, the district would include a 41 percent Hispanic population, with 35 percent of that group eligible to vote. It would be comprised of 50 percent Democrats and 28 percent Republicans.

The Coalition said its goal is to leverage Latino power in one district while still maintaining the constituency's influence in other districts.

"We need to have influence with more than just one representative," said Vincenta Montoya, chairwoman of the Sí Se Puede Latino Democratic Caucus and a coalition member.

"We deserve a map that speaks to our community's growing political influence throughout the state of Nevada," said Artie Blanco, of Mi Familia Vota.

The group insists its plan is non-partisan, but critics accuse the coalition of favoring Democrats.

The Democratic redistricting plan also calls for a 3rd Congressional District that leans Democratic but by a smaller margin (47 percent Democratic 30 percent Republican) and with a Hispanic population of only 37 percent. That would be the highest concentration of any of Nevada's four congressional districts, but still less Latino than the coalition proposes.

The Republican redistricting plan suggests a Hispanic majority in Nevada's new 4th Congressional District, with a 50 percent Hispanic majority. To do that, Republicans propose pulling Latinos from surrounding districts, which would dampen their power there by lessening their numbers.

Latino Coalition members accused the GOP of violating the Voting Rights Act by trying to pack Hispanics into one district to negate their power elsewhere. The coalition called their proposal "insulting, offensive and condescending."

"They'd have us believe they have our best interests in mind, yet they never reached out to talk to us," said Andres Ramirez, one of the coalition's leaders.

Ramirez also pointed out that the GOP legislative caucus includes no Hispanics.

"We Latinos can speak for ourselves," he said. "We don't need anyone to speak for us."

It's unlikely the coalition's map will be adopted as it stands now, a reality members recognize. But they said they hope the proposal at least begins a dialogue.

"We're hopeful this will merit consideration from both parties," Ramirez said.

That's not likely, at least on the GOP side. Republicans seem adamant about creating one strong majority-Hispanic district. Even some Latino voters agree.

"We have been the minority for a very long time already," said Alex Garza, who favors the GOP plan. "Now we have the opportunity to elect a Latino official. Anything that dilutes from that dilutes from our vote. Why are we putting ourselves back in the minority when we finally have a seat at the table?"

Garza is vice chairman of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, but said he was speaking as a private citizen.

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