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A redistricting compromise?

I don’t know how realistic this is, but if an agreement on how to divvy up the new Congressional districts can be worked out before the start of the legislative session, it would at least allow for more attention to be paid to matters like the budget.

Republican and Democratic members of the Texas congressional delegation are discussing a possible compromise designed to cool off the overheated politics of congressional redistricting by dividing the expected spoils once U.S. Census figures are in and the reapportionment process begins in 2011, two members of the delegation say.

U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, told me the plan on the table would split the expected four-seat gain in Texas congressional seats into two for the Republicans and two for the Democrats, shfiting the focus of a likely fight from which party gets what to where the new districts are drawn. That would take the current make-up of the delegation from 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats to 22 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Smith said he would be in Austin over the next few days presenting the possible compromise to Speaker Joe Straus and Gov. Rick Perry. Cuellar says he briefed Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst when they were together in South Texas earlier this year. “I talked to both of them,” Cuellar said. “They said, ‘If you guys come up with something bipartisan, we’ll support you.'”

Straus and Dewhurst were a bit more non-committal in the story, as you might imagine. There’s a lot of factors at play here that could strangle this effort before it ever gets started, and of course it depends on Texas actually getting four more seats – better get those Census forms in, all you Republicans – though there’s a plan for what to do if there’s only three extra seats as well. I wouldn’t bet my own money on this happening just yet, but at least the two sides are talking.

The main reason why this might work is that it would allow for the main goal of redistricting in most cases, which is incumbent protection. You figure if the 32 existing Congressfolk are reasonably happy about the boundaries they get, there’s less fuel for the firefight over the new seats. It’s quite clear where four new seats would go. The South Texas district would be Democratic, and the Central Texas one would be Republican. The other two, in west Houston and the Metroplex, could conceivably go either way. The advantage of a Southwest Harris County Democratic district is that it could be easily drawn to be a Hispanic opportunity district, which might allow Houston to elect its first-ever Latino Congressperson. It could also potentially shore up CD07 for John Culberson, by subtracting some of the area south of Westheimer from his district. The main fly in that ointment is that it would be more than a little ridiculous, and might prove technically challenging, to continue to have only one Democratic district in Dallas and Tarrant counties combined. Given the electoral trends in those counties, shoehorning in another Republican district might spread those voters around thinly enough to put as many as three currently GOP-held seats into peril in future elections: Kenny Marchant in CD24, Michael Burgess in CD26, and Pete Sessions in CD32. Not that that would grieve me, of course, but it’s the sort of thing that makes these needles hard to thread. Anyway, there’s many possible ways to do this, and it’s a much more exact science now with computers and whatnot, so we’ll see how it goes.

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  1. Jeb says:

    I’m not so sure that a new Central Texas district would be Republican. One of the challenges that the R’s are going to have is in how to keep CD 10 safe for McCaul.

  2. Greg Wythe says:

    As long as there’s four seats, there’s almost no way to create more than 2 of them for the GOP without endangering several others. The bigger question is what they try and do to Chet Edwards. I wouldn’t be shocked if Waco is to 2011 redistricting what Austin and Abilene were to 2003 redistricting.

    As for the locations, I’m doubtful that there would be anything terribly “new” in Harris County. The Dem seats will almost certainly go to Hidalgo and somewhere between Tarrant & Grand Prairie. The GOP seats, there’s a lot of options for how they could unfold. I suspect the biggest wildcard there will be which State Rep/Senator sees themselves as a Congressperson (ala Wohlgemuth & Marchant, 2003) or which powerful member of the lege sees their district as the most deserving of a special district (ala Craddick, 2003).

    Now, if there’s only three seats … expect a little bit of hell to break loose. It’s still hard for the GOP to leave Tarrant/Dallas Dem areas sliced the way they are (esp. with Obama running the Justice Dept). It may well be that there are two new Dem seats, but Chet is more easily justified as the sacrificial lamb in the process.

  3. trowaman says:

    I’ve played this game already. I made a 35 seat map, GOP control. Looking back on it, only change I would make is swing TX-17 into west Texas instead of east rural land.

    With 3 new seats, I got 1 Dem seat in D/FW, a GOP seat in Houston, and a GOP seat West of Austin and San Antonio. Give us a 4th seat, they may go with a lean Dem (not solid dem) in the Valley and still try and screw over Chet Edwards again.

    I don’t know where this “Houston would definitely bet a Democratic seat” meme is coming from. Houston can very much squeeze a new GOP seat out of the Northern parts and Clear Lake.

    Chuck, you need to play with Dave’s redistricting App, you’d have a lot of fun with it, I can tell. 😉

  4. blank says:

    I’ve played this game too. With 4 new seats, I break it down like this:

    If Republicans control the map, there will be 4 new R seats, 1 new D seat, and no more Edwards.

    If the Courts control the map, there will be 2 new D seats, 2 new swing seats, and Edwards gets to be safer.

    I give roughly even money on either of these two scenarios happening. If I were Democrats, then I would take the 2-2 deal. If I were Republicans, then I take it as well but with more hesitation.

  5. […] I believe a compromise at the Congressional level, one that aims to mostly protect incumbents, is still a viable […]

  6. […] I will note again that the Trib floated the possibility of a redistricting compromise, agreed to in advance, which I […]