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Lawmakers send Abbott new political maps that would further solidify GOP’s grip on Texas Legislature

The floor of the Texas Senate
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of its work to incorporate a decade’s worth of population growth into new political maps — pressing forward with efforts to cement GOP dominance of the statehouse and deny voters of color a greater say in who gets elected.

In the final stretch of a 30-day special legislative session, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate on Friday almost simultaneously signed off on new political maps for the opposite chamber, sending them to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, for his signature. The votes were largely procedural as neither chamber made any changes. It’s customary for each chamber to defer to the other in drawing up maps for its own members, but both must give them a vote.

By a vote of 81-60, the House granted approval to a Senate map that would draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.

The Senate gave an 18-13 vote to a House map that would fortify the Republican majority of the 150 districts, bolstering those that had grown competitive over the last decade and devising new battleground districts.

The House also signed off on a new map for the Republican-controlled State Board of Education, which sets standards for Texas public schools. Still left on the docket is a House vote on a redraw of the state’s congressional map that would largely protect incumbents in Congress while reducing the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters. That vote is expected Saturday.

If adopted, the maps could remain in place for the next 10 years, though it’s all but certain that they will face legal challenges that could result in changes.

The maps have drawn the ire of Democrats, civil rights groups and Texans from across the state who criticized Republicans for not adequately reflecting the major role people of color played in fueling the state’s population gains. Of the nearly 4 million people added to the population count, 95% were people of color. Nearly 2 million were Hispanic.

Yet neither map includes new districts in which Hispanics would make up the majority of eligible voters in a district to elect their preferred candidates.

House approves Senate map

In the Senate, there are currently 21 districts where the majority of eligible voters are white, seven with Hispanic majorities, one where Black residents are in the majority and two where no racial group makes up more than half of the total. The proposed map would create 20 districts where the majority of eligible voters are white, seven with Hispanic majorities, one where Black residents are in the majority and three where no racial group makes up more than half.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, said the proposal did not reflect the nearly equal population of Hispanic and white Texans in the state.

“There are nearly three times as many districts that are majority white compared compared to majority Hispanic,” he said.

The map’s lead author, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has said she drew the map “race-blind” but ran it by state lawyers to ensure it complied with legal requirements for the redistricting process.

Under certain circumstances, lawmakers are required to consider racial demographics in the state to ensure they are complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But Huffman has declined Democrats’ requests to specify what measures she used to ensure the maps complied with the law.

Since that law’s enactment, Texas has not made it a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating protections for voters of color.

The stakes are higher during this redistricting cycle. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially did away with a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination, like Texas, to gain approval from the federal government before making changes to election laws or political maps.

As a result, this will be the first redistricting cycle in Texas without a buffer for voters of color who feel the Legislature’s redrawing of political maps is discriminatory.

The lack of new districts where voters of color are the majority will have a political impact.

Sixteen Republican incumbents will be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats would also likely lose Senate District 10 in North Texas, represented by Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth. That would shift the Senate’s partisan makeup from the current 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats to 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats under the proposed map.

Voters of color in the district, which sits entirely in Tarrant County, have banded together with white voters over the last decade to elect their candidates of choice. Its eligible voters are 21% Black, 20% Hispanic and 54% white.

But under the proposed map, SD 10’s Black and Hispanic populations are split into two other districts with majority-white electorates.

The voters who remain in the newly drawn District 10 would also see major changes. Black and Hispanic voters in urban areas of south Fort Worth would be lumped in with seven rural counties to the south and west that would drive up the district’s population of white eligible voters to 62% while diminishing its population of voters of color.

Tarrant County House Democrats warned that federal courts had ruled that a similar attempt to redraw the district last decade was discriminatory. They offered multiple amendments to keep District 10 entirely in the county.

But the Republican majority rejected those amendments. State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, criticized House Republicans for deferring to the legislative tradition of not changing the other chamber’s maps.

“Tradition does not trump the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “Tradition does not trump the Constitution. Tradition does not trump what’s right and wrong.”

Senate approves House map

The House’s new map also pulls back on Hispanic and Black voters’ potential influence in electing their representatives.

The map brings the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters down from 33 to 30. The number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters would go from seven to six. Meanwhile, the number of districts with a white majority among eligible voters would increase from 83 to 89.

The map moved through the Senate chamber without any discussion, save for an earlier objection from state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Democrat from the Rio Grande Valley, during a Senate Redistricting Committee meeting Friday morning.

Lucio denounced a revision to the map that would carve up predominantly Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley in service of creating a new competitive House district in the typically blue region. The change, forced by a member who does not represent the affected districts, blindsided the House members from the area.

“Members, this is my fourth redistricting session,” Lucio told other members of the committee. “In my time in the Legislature, I have never seen such blatant disregard for the process.”

Meanwhile, Republicans shot down Democratic proposals to create new opportunities for Hispanic or Black Texans to control elections.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican serving as the House’s chief map-drawer, has previously argued the map “achieves fair representation for the citizens of Texas” while complying with federal law.

The redraw will ultimately aid Republicans’ ability to control the chamber for years to come.

The House map creates 85 districts that would have favored Trump at 2020 levels of support and 65 that would have voted for Biden. The current partisan breakdown of the House is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, though Trump only won 76 of the current districts in 2020.

State Board of Education map

The House also approved by a vote of 84-61 new maps for the State Board of Education, a 15-member body that is currently made up of nine Republicans and six Democrats. The proposed map tweaks the board’s partisan breakdown. Seven of the districts went to Biden during the 2020 general election, but under the new proposal, Biden would have won only six of the districts.

Again, Democrats lamented that the growth of people of color in the state was not reflected in the map. The current maps have eight districts whose majority of eligible voters are white, four where the majority is Hispanic and three that have no majority. The proposed maps will have seven districts whose majority of eligible voters is white, four where the majority is Hispanic and four that have no majority.

Anchía said those numbers are “not even close to being proportional” to the state’s population. He urged lawmakers to scrap the maps drawn by the Senate and come up with its own maps that would reflect the growth of the Hispanic population in the state.

“Rubber-stamping this bill is just as bad as having drawn it originally,” he said. “We can do better.”

From The Texas Tribune

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