By JAMES BARRAGÁN, ABBY LIVINGSTON and CARLA ASTUDILLO
The Texas Tribune
Texas lawmakers on Monday released their first draft of a new congressional map that would largely protect incumbents while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. The map reduces the number of districts dominated by people of color even though Texas gained two additional congressional seats and the population of Asian, Black and Hispanic Texans outpaced White Texans over the last decade.
Republicans constructed the map with incumbent protection in mind – a strategy that focused on bolstering vulnerable GOP seats rather than aggressively adding new seats that could flip from blue to red. However, the map does in fact strengthen Republican positioning overall in Texas, going from 22 to 25 districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The number of congressional districts that voted for Joe Biden would have shrunk by one, from 14 to 13.
While many incumbents appear safe in these maps, others were drawn into districts that overlap with one another – for example, the proposed map pits Houston Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw against Democrat Rep. Sylvia Garcia. It also pits two Houston Democrats – Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee – against each other.
Democrats, who have been out of power for decades, have attempted to make state elections more competitive but the redrawing of congressional maps gives the GOP an opportunity to lock in their advantage for another decade.
Texas’ current 36-seat congressional delegation is made up of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Under the new map, Texas will have 38 congressional seats and 40 electoral votes in future presidential contests. The two new seats were drawn in Austin and Houston.
The redrawing of district maps is intended to reflect population growth captured by the latest census. People of color accounted for 95% of the state’s growth over the last decade, but in the new map there’s one less Hispanic majority district and zero districts with a Black majority. The latest census results show Hispanic Texans nearly match the number of White Texans.
Based on eligible voters, the current congressional district map includes 22 districts with White majorities, eight with Hispanic majorities, one with a Black majority and five that have no majority. The newly proposed map includes 23 districts with White majorities, seven with Hispanic majorities, none with a Black majority and eight that have no majority.
Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens was dismayed that Hispanics, who drove much of the state’s population increase over the decade, growing by nearly 2 million people, would have less opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice under the proposed map.
“This map is clearly gerrymandered by politicians to protect incumbents and totally discriminate against Hispanic voters,” he said. “LULAC has filed suit against the state of Texas every 10 years since 1970 and we’ve prevailed every 10 years. Unless there’s new maps drawn, we expect we will wind up in federal court again.”
Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, called the proposal shocking, hurtful and outrageous.
“The proposed map vastly diminishes the voting strength of minorities all around the state by either packing them into districts already electing minority candidates of choice or cracking them by pushing them into districts dominated by conservative White voters,” he said. “As the state has garnered two new congressional seats on the backs of its minority population, it has sought to put forth a proposed congressional map that is clearly retrogressive.”
The maps were proposed by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, who leads the chamber’s redistricting committee. This is only the first draft of the map, which is likely to change before it’s passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.