WASHINGTON — The Texas House approved a congressional election plan late Saturday that would lock in an overwhelming Republican edge for a decade — despite a slipping share of the population and the fact that Texas’ two new seats stem from growth in the Hispanic population.
The gerrymandered map allocates 24 of 38 U.S. House seats to the GOP, a generous ratio given that Republicans collected just 53% of votes in congressional races last November.
“They would like to erase African Americans and Hispanics from the state by not allowing them to have access to vote for a person of their choice,” said Rep. Yvonne Davis, a Dallas Democrat, accusing Republicans of “racism” and “racist gerrymandering.”
The state Senate had already approved the map, which has implications far beyond Texas as Republicans try to topple Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the 2022 midterms.
The map is guaranteed to invite litigation on grounds that it leaves minority clout stagnant.
No other state gained as many seats in this year’s reapportionment of the U.S. House. The new map gives white Republicans control of both new districts, even though 95% of the 4 million new Texans the Census Bureau counted are people of color, and half are Hispanic.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area gets no additional representation, despite leading the state in growth. And it remains the country’s largest region without a Hispanic-majority district, despite a Hispanic population of 1.7 million – enough to fill two congressional districts.
Rep. Rafael Anchía, a Dallas Democrat who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, called that a “big glaring omission. … You really have to try hard to deny Latinos in North Texas the ability to elect the candidate of their choice.”
The House approved the map just before midnight on a party line 80-61 vote, after making minor tweaks that require House and Senate negotiators to meet Sunday and finalize the plan.
The latest census found that nearly 1.1 million people moved into Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties since 2010.
That’s more than double the growth in Travis, Williamson and Hays counties, which share one of the two new seats.
Democrats have the edge in that Austin-area district. Republicans will control a new Houston-area seat.
The demographics in both new districts favor white candidates.
“It is another step in our state’s shameful history to discriminate against Black, Latino and [other minority] citizens by passing a racially gerrymandered map,” said Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic caucus. “There’s a lot of problems with this map.”
Under the Senate version, Hispanic voters would control seven Texas congressional districts going forward — down from eight in the current 36-seat map. The House restored Hispanic control of that other district, which would blunt accusations of unlawful “retrogression” of minority influence if the Senate accepts the change.
House Redistricting Chair Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, defended the plan, saying it complies fully with federal law while keeping together political subdivisions and communities of interest and protecting incumbents.
“Yes there’s been a large percentage of growth,” he said.
The League of United Latin American Citizens demanded new districts in South Texas and Dallas-Fort Worth to fairly reflect growth patterns, asserting that without such districts, the map amounts to overt racial discrimination.
“This plan is a blatant partisan power grab,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “A fairly drawn map would have given more opportunity districts to the minority communities responsible for all of our population growth.”
The third special legislative session Gov. Greg Abbott has called this year ends Tuesday. Lawmakers worked frantically to finalize maps, and have already sent Abbott plans for the state House and Senate. The State Board of Education map is still pending.
Democrats complained that Hunter’s committee held a hearing on the Senate’s congressional plan Wednesday with just 12 hours’ notice. More than 80 people testified. All voiced opposition.
To avoid the risk of delay beyond Tuesday, the House panel approved the Senate plan without changes, opting to hash out potential tweaks during a floor debate that began late Saturday afternoon and ended moments before midnight.
Democrats fought to start over, or redraw North Texas to add a Hispanic-majority district. The GOP majority shot down those and other requests with little rhetorical pushback as adversaries aired their grievances, though the House did agree to tweak Houston-area lines to avoid pitting Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both Black, in one district.
The House also restored Hispanic control of District 35, held by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat. The district stretches from Austin to San Antonio. The Senate version pushed the share of Hispanic citizens of voting age to 48% – down from 52.6% under the current map. The House version boosts that to 50.5%.
None of that mollified Democrats, given the overall allocation of power.
“You think it’s OK for Latinos to have zero representation in the United States House of Representatives in a region that has 1.7 million Latinos,” Rep. Victoria Neave, a Dallas Democrat, challenged Republicans at one point. “Are you saying that that’s OK?”
The new map carves up Dallas County into six congressional districts, represented by three Democrats and three Republicans.
It packs non-white voters into districts represented by three Black incumbents — Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Colin Allred of Dallas and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth — which keeps them out of neighboring districts held by Republicans.
Allred’s new district is just 36% Anglo. Johnson’s is 18%, and Veasey’s is 13%.
At the same time, minority residents are shifted into more rural districts where white Republicans dominate, diluting their clout.
Veasey’s gnarled and jagged 33rd District hangs together at one point by a sinew of territory just three-tenths of a mile wide in Grand Prairie. It’s interlocked with District 6, itself connected by a strip in Arlington just four-tenths of a mile wide.
“You can see how the lines of the districts in North Texas snake into ridiculous shapes in order to undermine the growth of minority voters across Tarrant and Dallas counties. The borders of District 33 and District 6 are particularly offensive,” said Turner.
District 6 favors GOP Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie, who took office July 30 after a special election to replace Ron Wright, the first member of Congress to die in office of COVID-19.
White voters will comprise just under half the voting-age population, with a large number of Black and Hispanic voters from Northwest Dallas County combined with rural voters as far away as Palestine and Rusk in East Texas – “super egregious,” Anchía said.
GOP mapmakers used the decennial process to fortify a number of their incumbents.
Freshman Rep. Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving, won last fall by just 4,700 votes, a 2-point margin. The new map turns the 24th District from a 52-47 Joe Biden district to 55-43 Donald Trump turf.
In one egregious example of cherry-picking to dilute Democrats’ impact, the city of Denton is shifted into a district that gave Trump a 60-point margin, connecting the Democratic stronghold to the far reaches of the panhandle, 400 miles away.
Overall, the new map expands the number of one-party strongholds — making Republican seats more Republican, and Democratic seats more Democratic.
Republicans will control 23 seats by more than a 10-point margin, up from 14 seats on the current map; Democrats get 13 such seats, three more than they’ve had in recent elections.
The 5th District, held by Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, one of the most conservative members of the House, would include a quarter-million Black and Hispanic residents of Dallas County — along with enough voters from rural counties to the east to leave a 52.5% Anglo voting majority.
Hispanic advocacy groups have blasted the map as discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby vs. Holder ruling, states have been able to alter electoral districts without seeking approval from the Justice Department. Lawsuits after changes are adopted take years to work through courts.
The map leaves two competitive districts — one in South Texas, held by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, the other stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, held by Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-San Antonio.
In Collin County, GOP Rep. Van Taylor of Plano gets reinforcements in the 3rd District, which after years of Democratic gains remained in the Trump column by a single percentage point.
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, would likewise end up with a higher concentration of Republicans, and the 25th District sheds Austin and takes in Parker County in North Texas.
Democrats were furious at the pairing of Jackson Lee and Green in Houston, calling it gratuitous and an insult to the memory of the late Barbara Jordan, who held the Jackson Lee seat in the 1970s.
“That district has been dismantled, removing two universities, downtown and the historic Third Ward,” Turner complained.
(Political writer Gromer Jeffers Jr.contributed to this report.)