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The Texas Senate on Friday approved a 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 — stymying the growth of the state’s Democratic Party representation in Washington D.C.
The congressional map is focused more on protecting incumbents than on growing the power of the dominant Republican Party in the state by flipping districts from red to blue. But the map, proposed by GOP State Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, helps Republicans by increasing the number of districts that would have voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election and decreasing those that would have gone for Joe Biden.
The map also hinders the potential for Democrats to close the gap between the two parties in Texas’ congressional delegation by drawing fewer districts in which voters of color make up the majority of eligible voters, who tend to lean Democratic in the state. The state’s current delegation consists of 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
Currently, based on eligible voter population, the state has 22 districts with white majorities, eight with Hispanic majorities, one with a Black majority and five that have no majority.
But although the state’s population growth resulted in the state receiving two additional congressional seats for the next decade, state lawmakers did not draw any new seats where voters of color make up the majority of eligible voters.
That’s even as people of color drove 95% of the state’s population over the last decade, with Hispanics making up nearly 2 million of the state’s 4 million additional residents.
In response to criticism that lawmakers had not reflected that growth, Huffman said that while she drew the map “race-blind, it is wrong to say race was wholly ignored.”
She said she ran her drafts of the map by the attorney general’s office, which did further analysis to ensure the state complied with the Voting Rights Act, which protects voters of color from discrimination, and the U.S. Constitution. But she declined requests from Democrats to explain the analyses state lawyers performed on the map.
Democrats contend that their analysis of the U.S. Census data supports the creation of more districts where voters of color made up the majority, particularly Hispanics.
“We were assured that all the existing minority opportunity districts, whether they be Black or Latino, were going to perform as such,” Huffman said. “And we saw no strong basis in evidence that a new minority opportunity district should be drawn in the new maps.”
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed a map that would create three additional districts where Hispanics made up the majority, bringing the number of those districts to 10.
But Republicans rejected the proposal with Huffman saying the amendment had been drafted less than 24 hours before the Senate’s vote on the maps and would result in a “detailed and painstaking racial gerrymander” in North Texas to draw a new Hispanic majority district in the same area as the current Congressional District 33, represented by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.
Gutierrez accused Republicans of racially discriminating against voters of color.
“How else do we describe a situation where Texas gains new political power because of the physical presence of millions of Black, Brown, and Asian bodies, and yet the political establishment does not give those very Texans the ability to elect more candidates to represent them?” he said in a statement. “It is an insult to the foundations of our democracy.”
Under the proposed maps, voters of color may end up with less representation in their congressional delegation. The new map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up a majority of eligible voters from eight to seven, and the districts in which Black Texans make up a majority of eligible voters from one to zero.
The number of districts where whites make up a majority of eligible voters goes up to 23 even though the state’s white population — which increased by just 187,252 — was swamped by the growth of people of color.
Democrats urged the Senate to alter the proposed maps because they’d otherwise draw incumbents like Houston Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green into the same district. Lee, who represents the 18th Congressional District which covers chunks of downtown Houston and some of the city’s historically Black neighborhoods, is drawn out of her district and looped into Green’s 9th Congressional Cistrict.
Both lawmakers testified before the Senate’s redistricting committee to oppose the redrawing of their districts. Lee said her district had been “surgically, erroneously, and unconstitutionally” redrawn.
Green noted that the congressional delegation only had five Black members and two of them were being drawn into the same district.
But lawmakers could not come to an agreement on how to redraw the maps to minimize the impact on Lee and Green’s district.
This is the first round of political mapmaking in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination. Previously, states with long histories of voting discrimination, like Texas, had to receive approval from the federal government before making changes to election laws or political maps.
But the Supreme Court essentially did away with that requirement in 2013, leaving no buffer for voters of color if lawmakers pass discriminatory maps.
Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.
Civil rights groups like the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have told lawmakers the Senate’s proposal dilutes the voting strength of Black and Hispanic voters in the state.
LULAC’s president, Dallas-based Domingo Garcia, told a Senate committee hearing that if the maps did not change to reflect the growth of Hispanics in the state his organization would likely sue the state.
The congressional map now moves to the Texas House for approval before it can be signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. The map could potentially see changes there and must be approved before the end of the special legislative session which ends on Oct. 19.
Carla Astudillo contributed to this report.