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An early look at redistricting

The House Redistricting Committee is holding some hearings around the state in advance of the 2011 Census reports, and if there’s one thing we know already, it’s that West Texas will be losing influence next year.

The state population increased from 20.8 million in 2000 to an estimated 24.8 million in 2009, or 18.8 percent, but the Hispanic population grew at a faster rate, Jordan said. If the trend continues, as early as the next decade Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group in the state.

Though in more than a half-dozen counties in the Panhandle/South Plains region Latinos are now the majority, their population growth won’t compensate for the fact that the region stands to lose at least a Texas House seat and a congressional district when the Texas Legislature redraws the districts next year, some lawmakers said after the two-hour hearing ended.

“The Dallas area is going to gain some districts, but we are going to lose some,” state Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “Right now this is guesswork, or maybe I should say an estimate, because we won’t know for sure until December when we get the official figures.

“However, it doesn’t look good for us in West Texas,” Jones added. “We are going to lose representation.”

Other lawmakers reached the same conclusion.

“One way or another the Panhandle is going to be in trouble,” said Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, in El Paso County.

[…]

At a hearing in February, members of the Redistricting Committee were told that the new congressional districts would represent 811,221 people compared to about 750,000 now, and Texas House districts would represent about 167,652 compared to about 140,000 now. This means the Panhandle/South Plains region would have to have at least one million people to keep all of its six House districts. Current estimates put the region’s population at about 800,000.

Three senior members of the Lege from West Texas won’t be back next year – Jones, who was defeated in the Republican primary; Carl Isett, and David Swinford, each of whom retired. It’s going to be a rough year for that part of the state next year. In addition to that, you have to wonder what will become of Rep. Michael Conaway’s district, which was created in 2003 at the insistence of then-Speaker Craddick, who wanted a Congressional seat for Midland. Objectively speaking, there was no real reason for that, and the Census data will make it even harder to justify. Without someone of influence pushing to protect it, who knows what will happen.

As the story notes, West Texas’ loss will likely be the Metroplex’s gain.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said lawmakers next session will have a chance to create winnable districts for Hispanics in North Texas — not just in the Texas House, but state Senate and U.S. House.

“I would hope that everybody sees the light, that Texas has diversified,” Alonzo said.

He recalled it took a voting rights lawsuit for him to have a chance to win 17 years ago in House District 104, redrawn by the courts to enhance Mexican-American voters’ chances of electing one of their own.

“In Texas, we’ve had to go through litigation to make it happen,” Alonzo said. “I would hope we don’t have to go to that point.”

I wouldn’t count on that, but you never know. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the new Congressional district slated for the D/FW area will have to be a Democratic seat. The Congressional map up there is anything but representative right now. Of the 25 legislative members who represent Dallas and Tarrant counties, 13 are Democrats, yet only one member of Congress (Eddie Bernice Johnson) out of the nine whose districts include either Dallas or Tarrant is a Democrat. Among other things, the electoral trends are not sustainable for the Republican incumbents – Kenny Marchant and Pete Sessions need some help, with Sam Johnson and Michael Burgess not far behind them. Drawing a new seat to soak up some Democratic voters would benefit them.

Anyway. I believe a compromise at the Congressional level, one that aims to mostly protect incumbents, is still a viable possibility. The main reason for that not to happen is for someone with an interest in the outcome to push for a more partisan plan. As yet, I have not seen an indication of that, but it’s still early days. Legislative redistricting worries me more, especially if Rick Perry gets re-elected. We’ll see how it goes.

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