I appreciate the thrust of this story, but it omits a key fact.
One way to determine if Texas is truly gerrymandered is to compare the total vote share that Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Congress received in the 2018 midterm election.
Republicans received 53 percent of those votes. Democrats got 47 percent.
If the 36 seats in the Texas congressional delegation were divided with that proportion then there would be 19 Republican members of congress from Texas and 17 Democrats.
Instead what Texas has is 23 Republican congressmen and 13 Democrats.
The Republicans appear to get four additional seats because of the way the maps are drawn. And to see how they do that look no further than Austin.
“If you look at the city of Austin and Travis County as a whole, we have six congressional reps,” said State Representative Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat. “There is not a single district that has more than 25% of the Austin population. So six different congressional representatives, five of whom are Republican, one Democrat representing the city of Austin and Travis County.”
Howard is working to end gerrymandering in Texas with the establishment of an independent redistricting commission. She says it’s not just Republicans who gerrymander. When the Democrats had control in the state they did it too.
Howard added that “whichever party’s been in power basically has used this situation to draw lines that protected incumbents that ensure that a certain people can be elected that pack districts with a part, the party in power.”
Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice, said this is a pivotal time for Texas.
“It’s really a great time for people to be statesmen,” Li said.
Li said because of where the political pendulum is in its swing, this is a rare time when both political parties could be motivated to actually pass meaningful redistricting reform.
“Republicans had better provide themselves with some insurance and at the same time Democrats don’t know when that’s going to arrive so they have that incentive to continue to want to be fair,” he said.
So will this legislature be able to move forward on redistricting reform? Don’t bet on it.
Howard’s bills and similar ones were left pending. Essentially they are left in legislative limbo, stuck there until there’s another committee meeting to vote them out. Howard said it’s her impression that the House Redistricting Committee will not meet again this legislative session. So unless something changes, the issue is dead.
Rep. Howard’s bill is HB312, which would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission. It’s a fine idea, and the logic that Republicans ought to help set something up that won’t be hostile to them when they lose power makes sense. The reality is that in 2021, when redistricting will happen, Greg Abbott will still be Governor and Republicans will have a majority in the Senate. The best case scenario for Dems is winning the nine seats they need to take the majority in the House. But even then, if no maps can be agreed on, the task ultimately falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is “composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller, and commissioner of the general land office” and thus four to one Republican in the scenario I’m laying out. In other words, Republicans have this covered in 2021. There’s no incentive for them to ease up on the gas pedal, especially with a Supreme Court that will have their backs.
Now, in a truly blue-sky world, Dems sweep into statewide control in 2023, and following the Tom DeLay precedent redraw all the lines in that session. Let’s just say this is a longshot scenario, and not risky enough for the GOP to consider mitigation. Realistically, the next chance Dems will have to extract payback will be in 2031, and I think it’s fair to say that that’s far enough off to not be worth anyone’s time to worry about. If the statewide offices were up next year, then this might be a different story. But as things stand today, the Republicans have no reason to veer off the path they’re on now. They control the process now, and they will control it again in two years when it counts.