5 big questions about the redistricting session

by | Sep 20, 2021 | Policy, Redistricting

With the third special session of 2021 getting underway tomorrow, Texas politics is again heating up to a boiling point. This set of maps may determine the fate of our district lines for the next decade, and we’re expecting a busy session.

We’ve begun to see glimpses of a proposed new state senate map that could indicate that Texas Republicans are going to be fairly aggressive in how they redraw the congressional map.

Here are 5 big questions we’re keeping our eyes on as they hash out the new maps:

What happens in Houston?

For legislators and observers of the process, what’s about to happen in Houston will be instructive for the rest of the state, and it all comes down to how poorly the Census counted communities of color in East Harris County.

It’s no secret to even casual observers that Houston has grown considerably over the past decade, but the Census data seemed to account for most of that population growth to have come from Houston’s whiter and more affluent west side. Latino and Black neighborhoods in East Harris County were undercounted, which gives Republicans a prime opportunity to potentially eliminate a district or draw two Democrats into one seat.

This seems more likely to happen at the State House level and may lead to some interesting changes to the Senate district currently belonging to John Whitmire, the longtime Houston-area state senator openly mulling a bid for Mayor of Houston in 2023.

However, Congressional Democrats from the Houston area may also face the threat of having their districts consolidated. Republicans are likely to eye scenarios that would combine the districts of multiple Democratic members. This would be easiest to execute amongst a trio of veteran Democrats: Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green, and Sylvia Garcia. All of their districts are in close enough proximity that Republicans could angle to eliminate one of their seats by drawing them into a district with another Democrat. 

Such a plan would be a boon for Dan Crenshaw, the second-term congressman from Houston, who Republicans are likely looking to shore up in an even safer district. 

Will Republicans sacrifice Austin?

If Republicans are desperate to cling to as many districts as possible, they may need to let go of their decades-long obsession with dividing Austin and Travis County into as many far-reaching districts as possible. 

If Republicans were to draw a map that gave Travis County one or two districts anchored in Austin that were favorable for Democrats, it would allow them to get more creative in how they can carve out one of the two new districts Texas will be receiving for themselves. Giving up Austin could be the central key to their plan to gerrymander the state, which leads us to our next point.

Will Republicans advance their plot to gerrymander South Texas?

After making gains with Latino voters in South Texas in 2020, Texas Republicans are keen to find a way to gerrymander the region and elect Republican candidates in some majority Latino districts. It would be a big messaging win for national Republicans, and would significantly dilute the quality of representation for those communities.

Several scenarios exist for how they could do this, but the crux of it would center around Republicans drawing tall vertical districts that stretched from border communities to suburbs and exurbs of major cities like San Antonio or Austin. 

That would allow Republicans to pack reliable Republican voters into districts that, on paper, were 50-60% Latino. That could lead to a scenario where we’d see a conservative member like Michael McCaul representing a small pocket of Austin, and then having a district that extended far south of San Antonio.

It would be brazen, but if Texas Republicans have proven anything when it comes to redistricting, it’s that they are nothing if not brazen.

What’s happening in El Paso?

El Paso is, simply put, in trouble. The Census data for El Paso County wasn’t great, and it is one of few regions in the state that is likely to lose a seat in the Texas House entirely. That might set off some jockeying for position between the current Democratic incumbents across the county, with only former Speaker Pro Tempore Joe Moody likely to hang on to the entirety of his district.

Will this end up in court?

You betcha, folks. Texas Democrats are already filing lawsuits to try to stop the Republican push to pass crooked maps, and once these maps actually pass we’re likely looking at years of litigation as Texans unpack the extent to which the state has been gerrymandered to the detriment of communities of color. 

Only time will tell what will happen with these maps. Stay tuned to Texas Signal for the latest updates.

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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