Shared from the 10/1/2021 San Antonio Express eEdition

Texas House map to bolster GOP

Strategy same for Senate, congressional lines

The Texas House of Representatives on Thursday released its first draft for the chamber’s new district lines, rearranging boundaries to shore up support for the GOP majority.

It’s the same strategy that has been evident in other political maps the Republican-controlled Legislature has drawn this year, calculated to maintain a red majority in a state that has slowly trended more Democratic for years. In 2018, Democrats picked up 12 seats in the House, putting them within nine seats of the chamber’s majority.

The Democrats had hoped to make up that difference in the 2020 elections but ended up with no net gain — giving the GOP total control over the redistricting process.

“The map gives Republicans a slight advantage,” said Ross Sherman of the advocacy group RepresentUs, which works with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to grade redistricting proposals. “This seems to be a trend this cycle: another map producing safe seats and insulating politicians from their constituents.”

The Gerrymandering Project gave the proposed House map a “C” in fairness for its GOP advantages. It’s the highest grade that a Texas map has received so far, after proposals for congressional and state Senate maps earned “F” grades.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, blasted his GOP counterparts Thursday for taking away majority-minority districts under the proposal, despite the state’s population growth among people of color.

“Republicans continue to carve up communities and tilt the system, making free and fair elections impossible under the proposed House map,” he said.

Speaking in general about the maps, GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser said the Republicans tried to “lock in the gains” they earned during the 2020 election, rather than “be too aggressive” and shift blue seats their way.

The House seats currently are divided almost equally between districts that favored Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. The current map includes 76 Trump-led districts and 74 Bi-den-led districts, but the new map shifts that support to 86 in favor of Trump and 64 in support of Biden.

Texas grew by roughly 4 million people over the past decade, a surge driven almost entirely by people of color, especially Latinos. Updating the political maps is required every 10 years, to account for such shifts.

Still, the proposed House map reduces the number of majority-minority districts by voting age population. Previously, 67 districts were majority-white; the new map proposes 72 districts that have mostly white voters.

Those numbers change dramatically when evaluating estimates for adult citizens. Using those figures, the House currently has 83 majority-white districts, compared with 89 under the new map. And while the current districts include 33 with Hispanic majorities and seven with Black majorities, those numbers would fall to 30 and four, respectively.

“These maps do nothing but preserve the status quo at the expense of Black and brown Texans,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Texas.

There are also nine proposed districts in which sitting House members would be “paired,” meaning their home addresses overlap in the same seat. House members must live in the district they represent, and “pairing” often forces one of the members to step down, or they run against each other.

In six of those districts, at least one of the paired members has announcedother2022plans,avoiding re-election conflict. But the map sets up for fights in three of the districts — one between Democrats in El Paso and two between Republicans in the Hill Country and in Fort Bend County.

State Rep. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, who is paired under the proposal with a fellow Democrat, state Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez, said the proposal was the “worst possible outcome for our community.”

“The Texas House map filed today reduces El Paso’s representation by drawing two Hispanic, women incumbent members who represent border districts into one House district,” Ortega said in a statement. “This is a direct attack on our border community and weakens the representation of minorities in the Texas Legislature.”

The proposal is all but certain to change over the coming weeks. It must pass the House and the Senate and earn Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature before becoming law.

The biggest changes in the new map appear to be centered in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, where district boundaries have changed significantly.

Districts in Bexar and Harris counties would not undergo the dramaticchangesproposedforTexas’ congressional districts, which lawmakers have greater flexibility to reshape.

In most cases, the Texas Constitution prohibits state House districts from spanning multiple counties in urban areas such as San Antonio and Houston.

Still, lawmakers were able to reinforce GOP-controlled seats in their proposed map where the party’s support has eroded in recent years, offloading Democratic voters from those areas to districts that are already blue.

For example, the map appears to fortify two red-leaning suburban seats in west Harris County represented by state Reps. Mike Schofield of Katy and Lacey Hull of Houston. The map suggests giving some of their blue-leaning precincts to a seat represented by state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, making his district more Democratic.

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