House proposes map that increases Republican strength, decreases Black & Hispanic majority districts

ByPatrick Svitek, Cassandra Pollock and Cara Astudillo, The Texas Tribune
Thursday, September 30, 2021
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Lawmakers must redraw the state's political maps to account for a decade's worth of growth, but the process leaves enough room for political manipulation. Here's how it'll work.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas House members on Thursday released its first proposal for a new map redrawing the chamber's 150-member districts. The initial draft would both increase Republicans' strength across the state and the number of districts in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters.

House Bill 1, authored by Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter, the GOP chair of the House Redistricting Committee, is just the first draft, and it will likely change as it makes its way through the legislative process before it's signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. The House committee will hold a public hearing 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 4, to discuss this first version of the chamber's map.

The Texas Legislature is in the midst of its third special session, which is dedicated to redrawing political maps based on the latest census data. Those numbers, released earlier this year, showed people of color fueled 95% of Texas' population growth over the past decade.

The new map though, would create fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters. Black and Hispanic Texans make up two racial groups that along with Asian Texans outpaced the growth of white residents in the state over the last decade.

Currently 83 of the chamber's 150 districts are areas in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters; 33 are districts where Hispanic voters make up the majority, while Black residents are the majority of eligible voters in seven districts. The current map does not include a district in which Asian residents make up a majority and 27 districts have no majority racial group.

Under the new proposal, white residents would make up the majority in 89 of those 150 districts, while Hispanic residents would make up the majority in 30 districts. Black residents, meanwhile, would make up the majority in four districts. Asian residents would continue to not make up the majority in a single district. And the number of districts with no majority racial group would stay at 27.

The proposed map would also change the partisan breakdown among the 150 districts.

Under the current map, 76 districts went to former President Donald Trump during the 2020 general election while 74 went to President Joe Biden. Among those, 50 districts voted 60% or more for Trump, 40 districts did for Biden and 60 districts did not have a candidate that received more than 60% of the vote. Using the proposed map, 86 districts would have gone for Trump, while 64 would have went for Biden. The number of districts that voted 60% or more for Trump or Biden would be tied at 46, and there would be 58 districts where a candidate did not receive more than 60% of the vote.

The House draft would also pit several incumbents against one another, including two El Paso Democrats - state Reps. Evelina "Lina" Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez - who would have to vie for the new House District 77.

In statements soon after the initial draft was released, both lawmakers criticized the proposal for pitting two Hispanic incumbents against the other.

Ortega, who referred to the proposal as "a direct attack on our border community," said she was "committed to working for our community to stop this injustice from occurring." Ordaz Perez said she would "refuse to sell out my values or those of the people I represent for political gain," adding that she intends to return to the lower chamber for another term "to fight for the people of El Paso."

In two other cases, state Reps. Jacey Jetton, R-Richmond, and Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, would have to compete for the proposed House District 26, while state Reps. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, and Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, would face off for the new House District 19.

Later Thursday, disagreement emerged between Jetton and Stephenson over whether the latter had been drawn out of his district.

Stephenson's office told the Tribune that Jetton "isn't playing the nicest with this new map" and blamed him for drawing Stephenson out of his district.

Jetton, in a statement to the Tribune, acknowledged that while "there has been some confusion about Representative Stephenson's residence," it was his understanding that Stephenson resides in Wharton County, "so we are not actually paired in HD-26."

On Wednesday, Stephenson sent a letter to members of the House Redistricting Committee to express his disappointment over the initial draft.

"We all have to make sacrifices," he wrote. "However, I do not believe that it is imperative to the degree of which I am being told to do so."

As for other GOP matchup, it appeared later Thursday that the two incumbents could avoid a primary after Biedermann tweeted he may run in another district.

Other incumbent pairings under the House proposal involve a lawmaker who is either running for another office or has already announced their retirement.

In the proposed Dallas-area House District 108, for example, state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, who would have to face off against state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, has already announced he will not seek another term to the lower chamber.

And in another North Texas race for House District 63, state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, who would have to compete against his colleague state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, is running for a seat in the Senate, while Beckley is vying for a spot in Congress.

This is the first time in decades federal law allows Texas to draw and use political maps without first getting federal approval to ensure that they're not violating the rights people of color. That federal preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

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