The Texas House Redistricting Committee held its first public hearing Tuesday to gather input on how to draw the next round of political maps ahead of 2021.
The last time lawmakers drew up political boundaries for the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress, in 2011, courts found they intentionally discriminated against racial minorities. A federal court forced the state to redraw the maps in 2013, but the legal battle continued over the decade.
A coalition of voting rights groups focused on redistricting, known as Fair Maps Texas, said in a statement they want 2021 to be different.
“Not only do we want to prevent the same mistakes from happening again,” the groups said, “but we also want public input at these hearings to be taken seriously.”
Republican state Rep. Phil King of Weatherford, the chairman of the committee, said he planned to make sure the public feels “empowered and knowledgeable” about the process.
“Above all, I want us to make sure that we do this in a very fair and in a very transparent manner and in a way that completely complies with the law,” he said.
Tuesday's hearing in Austin is just the first of a series of public hearings that will take place across the state up until the end of 2020. These field hearings are an opportunity for the public to give lawmakers personal context and information about where their communities are located.
After groups raised concerns earlier this year that the committee’s preliminary schedule would have given smaller cities an outsized role in the process, King said the number of hearings would be doubled to accommodate bigger cities that need more hearings.
The committee also adjusted the start times of some of the hearings to make sure more people could attend, which voting groups also asked for.
One of the biggest concerns among voting groups remains whether lawmakers will draw districts that provide additional political power for the state’s fast-growing racial minority populations.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many attempts recently of the politicians in power trying to manipulate elections in ways that would intentionally diminish the political clout of communities of color,” Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, said in a statement. “We’re hopeful the state will refrain from using this process as a tool to manipulate the outcome of elections, but stand ready to fight against discriminatory maps – again – if needed.”
Lloyd Potter, the state’s demographer, said during the hearing that Texas has experienced massive growth among the Latino and Asian populations.
The Asian population is much smaller than the Latino population, he said, but it’s growing “very, very fast.” He said the state’s black population growth is on par with the state’s overall population growth. Meanwhile, the white population has declined.
Experts have said Texas could gain up to three congressional seats in 2021, depending on how accurate the U.S. Census count is in 2020.
“Looks like we are currently set to be the big winner in terms of seats because we have been growing more than any other state for far in this decade,” Potter said.