Redistricting Journal: Showdown in Texas - reasons and implications for the House, and Hispanic vote

Texas Redistricting Map
Mark Gersh is president of NCEC Services Inc., and a CBS News Consultant. Redistricting Journal is a regular Hotsheet series on redistricting battles across the country.

Texas was the big winner in the new Congressional allocations: its congressional delegation, already the second largest in the nation, will expand by 4 seats from 32 to 36, thanks to its 20.6% population growth over the past 10 years. In the rest of the country only Florida was the beneficiary of 2 seats, with Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington each gaining 1.

Within the lone star state, now a partisan and demographic battle has been joined as to how to allocate the 4 new seats. The initial attempt has angered a large contingent of Latino Americans. And the Justice Department, in a Monday filing, alleged the Texas congressional map fails to meet the Voting Rights Act mandated standard that minorities must be able to maintain or increase their prospects of electing of a candidate of their choice.

Here's an explainer, and the implications:

89 percent of the state's population growth has been non-white, with Hispanic population growing from 32 percent to 37.6 percent of the total. When all non-white ethnicities are taken into account, Texas is now a majority-minority state. So one leading question is how many districts ought to be majority-Hispanic. As in most states redistricting involves both partisan politics, attempts to make sure minorities are represented and, of course, geographic realities of where people live. The lines drawn by Texas' Republican state legislature would make 9 of the 36 districts majority Hispanic. Opponents of the plan - including plaintiffs in a legal challenge against it - argue that the massive Hispanic growth would give that community more than 9 districts. By the numbers, if the total number of Hispanic districts matched the population show in proportion, 13 or 14 districts would be allocated to the Hispanic population. There are also 3 African-American plurality districts in Texas, and the Black share of the state population grew by more than 20 percent since 2000.

Whether or not this argument prevails is an open question. While 37.5 percent of the Texas population is Hispanic, its share of the voting age population is far lower - 24 percent. Some have also raised questions about the Texas census data, both in terms of a potential undercount, but also the American Community Survey regarding citizenry.

A San Antonio court is the venue for the legal confrontation between a myriad of groups, including the Mexican-American Legal and Education Fund and the Republican state officials. A three judge court - including two Hispanics, one of whom was appointed by former Governor George W. Bush - has promised a timely decision. But will it matter? It is now expected that a panel of federal judges in DC will decide whether the Texas plan violates the Voting Rights Act, likely before the San Antonio trial is over. If the plan is nullified, the judges in San Antonio, in all probability, will draw a new map.

In a related development, the anticipated Justice Department position from last Monday may explain why the Republicans bypassed the pre-clearance process that normally seeks approval by the Attorney General, and opted for the Federal court in the District of Columbia.

Next let's look at how things would shape up under the proposed map. By the numbers, the proposed Texas map would bolster the overwhelming Republican control of the congressional delegation. (Leading some to all it a "Perrymander," a nod to Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor, Rick Perry.) With the GOP now holding 23 of Texas' 32 districts, the most likely estimate of the implications inherent in the Republican map is a 26-10 advantage, with Democrats gaining 1 new seat: the 34th, also holding the 35th district that is essentially a reconfiguration of the 25th district, now held by Lloyd Doggett, The old 25th district will almost certainly elect a Republican. Furthermore, the Republicans sharply improved the reelection prospects of freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold in the 27th district. The current district is 71 percent Hispanic, while the new configuration is no longer a Hispanic majority voting age district. The fact that Farenthold was able to unseat a Hispanic incumbent in such an overwhelmingly Hispanic districts vividly reveals the challenge in electing more minority members. Democrats will also be able to compete for the 23rd district represented by Republican Francisco Canseco, the only true marginal district in the state.

Texas is no stranger to fights over redistricting from all sides. All this - and maybe the legal case - can also be considered along with views of the future of Texas, given the current growth trends. Currently, it is dominated by Republicans. That was not always the case. As recently as 2000, Democrats held a 17-13 advantage in the Texas congressional delegation, largely due to an equally effective partisan gerrymander orchestrated by former Rep. Martin Frost. Even the gerrymander that was adopted in 2004, largely through the efforts of ex Rep. Tom DeLay, created a 21-11 GOP advantage, less ambitious than the plan under scrutiny now.

Census data suggests that the era of Republican domination may end by the end of the decade, as may examining the plan allege, if the Hispanic vote continues to grow and if it stays Democratic, Remember, George W. Bush was quite popular within the Hispanic community when he was Governor.

While Hispanics represented 8 percent of the electorate in 2004, that number grew to 17 percent in 2008 and 2010. It is expected that the 20 percent threshold will be crossed in 2012. In Governor Perry's successful reelection, Democrat Bill White won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote, along with 88 percent of the African-American vote (13 percent of the electorate). While it is extremely unlikely that Barack Obama will mount a serious challenge for the 38 Texas electoral votes next year, it is plausible that state-wide Democrats may be highly competitive in 2014, and assuredly by 2018.

By 2016 or 2018, demographic changes might endanger at least 3 more Republicans: Kay Granger (12th district - Ft. Worth area), Joe Barton (6th district - Dallas- Ft. Worth suburbs), the new 25th district located in Western Travis County, and perhaps the new 36th district (Houston area-Beaumont). That is, though, little consolation for Democrats, now aspiring to regain the House in 2012.

It is instructive to compare Texas to California, another state with a growing Hispanic population, but a non-partisan redistricting process. California (53 seats) and Texas 36 seats) both contain almost identical Hispanic population -37.6 percent total population. Both states now embody a majority of non-white ethnicities. While California's Asian population is 13 percent compared to only 3.8 percent in Texas; the Lone Star state contains far more African-Ameircans: 11.8 percent compared to 6.2 percent in California.. Overall the white non-Hispanic population is 40.1 percent in California and 45.3 percent in Texas.

As mentioned, California's redistricting was completed by a bipartisan commission instead of a partisan legislative process. In California, 13 Hispanic majority and 35 majority-minority districts were created. Texas by comparison constructed 9 Hispanic seats and 16 majority minority districts. So 66 percent of California districts are at 50 percent plus minority, compared to 44 percent in Texas. To be fair to Texas, there are geographical dissimilarities that may have facilitated creation of minority districts more so in California than Texas.

So in Texas, where Democrats represent about 44 percent of the electorate, they are likely to win 28 percent of the congressional districts. California by comparison is also likely to elect far more Democrats than its percentage of the state-wide vote would imply, but that may be a by-product of its prioritization of minority voting rights, not the residual impact of a partisan redistricting plan. Arguably, California, where Obama won 61 percent of the vote in 2008 is more Democratic at the Federal level than Texas is Republican, where John McCain won 56 percent.

So the stakes in the Texas legal battle will have implications not only in-state, but also in the national arena: with so many seats there is a large effect on the national House balance. In 2012, Texas will remain the second largest delegation in the nation, perhaps with a large say in who controls the House.

More of Mark Gersh's redistricting coverage in Hotsheet:

Dems could pick up seats in California
Dems, GOP fighting to a draw
GOP could win big in North Carolina
Iowa races could be among 2012's most competitive
Indiana redistricting bolsters GOP prospects
Dems seek big gains after Illinois redistricting

  • Mark Gersh

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