The battle for the future control of Congress will inevitably pass through Texas, if not this year, then in the very near future.
Because of figures released by the 2010 census, Texas will gain four new congressional seats in the 2012 elections. The question is whether Republicans who now control the state legislature and the governor’s mansion will apportion these two seats in a manner where Latinos have a majority in at least two of them.
According to The Los Angeles Times, redistricting is controversial throughout the nation, but in the Lone Star state it has always been particularly contentious. Both political parties have gerrymandered, marginalized minorities, cemented power and protected their incumbents. Every plan in recent decades has ended up in the courts.
And this time, as it was during the last decade the problems have to be solved by a Republican majority. They are faced with a difficult choice, according to some political pundits. The state has added more than four million new residents since 2000, and two-third of that growth has come from Latinos.
This year’s battle is expected to be just as explosive as it was in 2003 when state Democratic lawmakers went into hiding in Oklahoma to avoid creating a quorum that would allow a vote on a new map. With this year’s process just beginning, two lawsuits have already been filed.
“It’s going to be as torturous a process as it has always been,” said E. Mark Braden, a Republican redistricting lawyer. Currently, Latinos make up 38% of the state’s population, and have the power to elect their preferred candidates in seven of the state’s 32 congressional districts. Latino activists are urging lawmakers to give Latinos two of the four new seats, one each in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and South Texas.
One GOP faction wants to try to use its power to draw at least three seats that are safe for the GOP. This has led to a battle in Texas’ congressional delegation. Rep. Joe L. Barton is pushing for the GOP to take at least three of the new seats against fellow Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who is calling for an even split.
One side says Hispanics vote for Democrats by a better than two to one margin, so why give them an opportunity to have two Latino districts. The other says that view is too simplistic.
They point out that in 2010, two Republican Latinos won congressional seats, and a third GOP candidate won in a Latino district.
“The census numbers came out a few months ago, but these people didn’t arrive here a few months ago,” said Chris Elam, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas. “We’ve worked hard to recruit and find candidates who can run strong campaigns in areas traditionally underrepresented by Republicans.”
Republicans control the statehouse, the governor’s mansion and a five-member redistricting panel. While they are in an enviable position, they face challenges. The party won some seats in 2010′s GOP surge that it will find difficult to hold on to over the long term. And while they want to hold sway over as many districts as possible, they must be careful not to shave the margins so thin that the demographic tide overwhelms them over the next decade.
The newspaper points out what has happened in a Houston area district held by 14-year House veteran Pete Sessions, a Republican.
In 2000, the district was 50.1% white, but it is now 42.4% white, 42.4% Latino and 8.2% black. Officials drawing the redistricting maps are likely to shift the district north to insulate Sessions, decreasing the number of Latinos while increasing the number of white residents. A new minority district in the area would allow Latinos a new seat while protecting incumbents.