Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.
At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.
It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.
Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”
Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.
“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.
Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.
But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.
“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”
In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.
And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.
Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:
Dist Clinton% Burns% Dem18% Rep18% ===================================== 105 52.1% 49.0% 54.7% 45.3% 113 49.1% 46.4% 53.5% 46.5% 115 51.5% 45.8% 56.7% 43.3% 134 54.7% 45.4% 46.8% 53.2% 102 52.3% 45.3% 52.8% 47.2% 043 43.6% 44.3% 38.9% 61.1% 112 48.3% 43.9% 48.9% 51.1% 135 46.6% 43.7% 50.8% 47.7% 138 47.6% 43.6% 49.9% 50.1% 114 52.1% 43.3% 55.6% 44.4% 132 45.5% 42.7% 49.2% 49.1% 136 46.7% 42.7% 53.3% 43.8% 065 46.1% 42.4% 51.1% 48.9% 052 45.3% 42.2% 51.7% 48.3% 054 43.6% 42.0% 46.2% 53.8% 045 44.2% 41.7% 51.6% 48.4% 026 45.5% 41.0% 47.5% 52.5% 047 46.5% 40.5% 52.3% 47.7% 126 42.7% 39.8% 45.2% 54.8% 108 50.3% 39.6% 49.7% 50.3% 066 45.5% 39.5% 49.7% 50.3% 067 43.9% 38.9% 48.9% 51.1% 097 42.1% 38.5% 47.2% 50.9% 121 42.7% 38.0% 44.7% 53.2%
“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.
All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:
Dist Clinton% Burns% Dem18% Rep18% ===================================== 014 38.1% 34.7% 43.6% 56.4% 023 40.7% 40.5% 41.1% 56.8% 028 42.7% 38.9% 45.8% 54.2% 029 41.0% 38.9% 032 41.9% 39.5% 064 39.5% 37.4% 44.5% 52.8% 070 32.2% 28.8% 38.2% 61.8% 084 34.8% 32.1% 39.8% 60.2% 085 40.9% 39.7% 43.5% 46.5% 089 35.4% 32.1% 40.4% 59.6% 092 40.2% 37.9% 47.4% 49.8% 093 40.0% 37.5% 46.1% 53.9% 094 40.5% 37.7% 43.9% 52.5% 096 42.3% 40.6% 47.2% 50.9% 129 39.8% 36.3% 41.8% 56.5% 150 36.3% 33.5% 42.2% 57.8%
Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.
Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.
And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.
UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.