New Congressional map doesn’t add up
By ROYCE WEST
Over the next week, it is likely that a new redistricting map, which will determine district boundaries for Texas’ U.S. House delegation, will reach the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott. It will arrive over the protests of my Democratic colleagues in the Texas Senate, because the many factors to be considered in redistricting, including population growth, race and ethnicity, do not add up in the new map. It’s but another demonstration of a phrase used too often by me saying that ‘elections have consequences.’
The 2020 census results released in August say more than 29.1 million people now live in Texas. That’s a population increase of about 4 million since 2010. Census reports show that 95% of Texas’ growth is attributable to people of color.
Because of Texas’ phenomenal growth, it’s the only state in the country that will increase its Congressional delegation by two members, from 36 to 38. So since people of color are overwhelmingly responsible for that growth, it would lead to believe that the groups responsible for the growth would have a reasonable opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice come election time. But not so…
That’s where the math gets fuzzy. Because under the Senate bill’s formula, 3.8 million of 4 million new Texans (95%), equals zero new Congressional districts that may reflect the people responsible for the growth.
Census data released in August says non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics are each nearly 40% of Texas’ population, with Blacks about 12%. Half of the population growth can be attributed to Hispanics. About 558,000 more African Americans live in Texas now than in 2010. Currently, there are 19 majority White population Congressional districts. Ten U.S. House districts have majority Hispanic populations. Five African Americans represent Texas in Congress. The new Congressional map does not create any new majority Hispanic population districts.
Those knowledgeable about redistricting expected a new Congressional district for North Texas with the other, near Houston/Harris County. Instead, SB6, the Congressional redistricting bill, drew a new district near Austin, even though population growth in North Texas exceeded 1 million, double that of counties surrounding Austin.
In a state that has 36 incumbent U.S. House members, it doesn’t figure that the only two who were pitted against each other are Houston’s Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green. District boundaries were redrawn to move Blacks and Hispanics who live in the 18th Congressional District Jackson Lee now represents – including her home – into CD9, now represented by Green.
For the less familiar, two definitions common to redistricting are in order: packing and cracking. Packing occurs when more of a specific (ethnic) group are added (packed) into an already heavily minority district. Cracking takes place when a particular group who does not make up a majority of a district, but number sufficiently to influence the outcome of an election, are removed from that district and placed where their influence is diluted.
There’s a device used where if something is said over and over again, after a while, that statement is taken as truth. Such was the tactic used by the author and proponents of SB6 who said repeatedly that “the maps were drawn blind to race.” Try selling that to those opposed.
SB6 ‘packs’ minorities into predominantly, minority districts across the state and ‘cracks’ minorities away from swing districts where they may be able to influence the outcome of races and places them in districts where their impact will be diluted, creating safe Republican districts.
While partisan gerrymandering has been deemed acceptable by the courts, racial gerrymandering or the altering of district boundaries based on race to obtain a desired outcome, is not. And while SB6 proponents say the bill is legal and blind to race, people of color appear to be used as pawns to accomplish the goals desired in this redistricting Game of Thrones.
Since the 2013, Shelby v. Holder ruling effectively eliminated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act that required preclearance of changes in election law in nine states, including Texas, our hopes to thwart SB6 will depend on Section 2. Originally under Section 2, for changes in voting laws to be in violation, the “intent” or “purpose” of the change had to be found discriminatory. However Section 2 was amended in 1982 so that now, changes can be found in violation if the “effect” of those changes are determined to be racially discriminatory.
To recap, 95% of Texas’ 4 million population increase can be attributed to people of color. The ethnic group responsible for half the growth does not realize a new opportunity to elect a Congressional candidate of its choice. And the only two of what will be a 38 member Congressional delegation who were redrawn into the same district happen to be minorities.
Under SB6, numbers added don’t increase totals. Maybe in addition to math, Texas also needs instruction on “equal treatment under the law!”
Sen. Royce Barry West is a member of the Texas Senate and has represented the Dallas-based 23rd District since 1992. He is also the managing partner at West and Associates L.L.P. He can be reached through https://www.senate.texas.gov.