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Farmers Branch At-Large Elections Challenged in Court

By BJ Austin

Dallas, TX – The debate in Farmers Branch over illegal immigration is the backdrop for the Voting Rights lawsuit being heard in a federal courtroom in downtown Dallas. Hispanics bringing the suit say they are more than 40% of the Farmers Branch population, but are denied a voice on the City Council because of the at large election system. Longtime Farmers Branch resident Ruben Rendon was the first witness. He LOST his race for City Council May 10th, but won precinct 1502, a largely Hispanic neighborhood at the center of the argument for single-member districts in Farmers Branch, with one majority Hispanic. Rendon says it's past-time to have a Latino making decision about city policies and resources.

Rendon: "Really they don't have any clue what the Hispanic community wants or needs. It's 40% of the population, so that's very important."

Expert witness Dr. Richard Gambita says the at-large system allows the same majority of voters to consistently elect 100% of the legislative body. Farmers Branch City Councilmember David Koch doesn't buy that.

Koch: "And it's actually very shallow and shortsighted to say that a man or a woman who's on the council can't represent the cross section of the community. It almost comes off as racist to say that only a Hispanic can represent Hispanics."

Jose Galvez, who ran and LOST in last year's City Council race, says Hispanic representation at Farmers Branch City Hall is critical. He says look what happened last year when Minyard reportedly wanted to bring a Carnival Food Store to Farmers Branch.

Galvez: "And ah, one of the city council candidates a year ago said that Carnival does not represent the community. But on the other hand it does."

The detailed testimony with experts crunching numbers and explaining graphs will take two days.