Hispanic community leaders charged Monday that whites still discriminate against them in voting, or there would be a Latino member of Congress and more Latinos in the state Legislature.
"Can you name a congressman or congresswoman who has been Latino or Latina?" asked Jose Solorio, a former Clark County School Board member. "There haven't been any."
Dr. Annette Teijeiro said there had been hardly any Hispanic legislators until the 2010 election, and even now only 14 percent of the legislators are Hispanic at a time when Hispanics make up 26.5 percent of the Nevada population.
"There are qualified Hispanic candidates out there that are dispersed in non-Hispanic districts," the Las Vegas physician told a panel of three court-appointed special masters who have been charged with drawing congressional and legislative districts that reflect changes shown by the 2010 U.S. Census.
But there was no agreement even among Hispanic leaders during a seven-hour hearing in Las Vegas on whether their community would gain more political influence if Latinos were packed into majority Hispanic districts or spread out over a number of districts.
Throughout the hearing, the panel members, Las Vegas lawyer Thomas Sheets, Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover and former Legislative Counsel Bureau Research Director Bob Erickson, largely were silent, periodically asking questions and requesting election maps prepared by the speakers.
They have been directed by Carson City District Judge James T. Russell to hold another public hearing today in the capital city and then meet in private to draw new election district maps. Russell wants them to finish their work by Oct. 21. He will hold a Nov. 16 hearing to decide whether to adopt their maps or request changes.
But in response to challenges of the panel's authority filed by Secretary of State Ross Miller, the Nevada Supreme Court will hold a Nov. 14 hearing to decide whether the panel or courts even should be involved in redistricting matters. The court noted last week that it is the "duty" of the Legislature under the state constitution to handle redistricting.
Gov. Brian Sandoval twice vetoed Democrat-passed redistricting bills on the grounds they did not create enough Hispanic-dominated districts. Republican plans that created one Hispanic congressional and 12 Hispanic legislative districts were not even considered.
Some Hispanics, noting the election of Sandoval as governor, Catherine Cortez Masto as attorney general and eight Hispanic legislators, argued Monday that majority Latino districts are not needed for them to win.
"We already can elect candidates of our choice," Marco Rauda said. "Packing Latinos in as few districts as possible reduces our influence in other districts."
Nineteen percent of the state's 1.13 million registered voters are Hispanic. But because many Hispanics are not registered or are in the country illegally, no congressional or even legislative district drawn by the panel could have a majority of Hispanic registered voters, lawyers for both Democratic and Republicans parties have conceded.
Former state Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and other black community leaders also expressed concern that the emphasis on Hispanic majority districts could lead to creation of Latino-dominated districts that would pit black against Hispanic candidates. Blacks have 8 percent of the state population.
Neal and other black community leaders said Hispanics are not one cohesive community, but include people from backgrounds in Nicaragua, Columbia, Cuba, Mexico and other countries.
Neal said he has represented many black Hispanics in his 32-year legislative career.
He and others want to preserve the influence of the "Westside," the historic area of West Las Vegas where African-Americans mainly were confined in the days of segregation. The area is generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, Interstate 15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.
"The principle here should be of fairness and equality," added Richard Boulware, a black federal public defender.
He fears the panel will create districts with 45 percent Hispanic populations and where blacks would number only 15 percent to 20 percent.
"Latinos and African-Americans potentially could be at odds with each other," he said. "That would be highly unfair."
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.