Texas House Approves Congressional Redistricting Map
AUSTIN – The Republican-controlled Texas House gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to a GOP plan to redraw congressional districts despite concerns from Democrats that it dilutes the votes of minorities.
Democrats attacked the plan by Republican Rep. Burt Solomons, arguing it doesn’t accurately reflect minority growth over the past 10 years and defies the federal Voting Rights Act. The map needs a final procedural vote before it goes back to the Senate for final approval.
Some lawmakers were angry that the map splits the Austin area into multiple districts, saying the move would divide minority areas and dilute their collective voice. They also said it denies the most Democratic part of the state a single seat.
“Austin should be represented by one strong voice in Washington, not splintered into little pieces,” said Rep. Elliot Naishtat, D-Austin. “It doesn’t serve our minority communities to be grouped with distant districts.”
Austin Democrat Rep. Dawnna Dukes called the map “purposeful discrimination” by lawmakers trying to fracture communities of interest and weaken minority votes.
“You couldn’t have done a better job of carving out minority neighborhoods unless you were a surgeon with a sharp scalpel,” Dukes said.
Solomons rejected multiple Democrat plans that would have created new Hispanic and African-American districts throughout the state. Solomons maintains that the map is fair and legal, and he is confident it could withstand any legal challenges.
“We tried to keep the core of the communities of interest in tact,” Solomons said. “Nobody got exactly what they wanted.”
Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, proposed an unsuccessful amendment early in the debate that would have moved 300 acres south of the Woodlands from U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady’s district back to the district represented by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe. Riddle said the “crown jewel” is expected to house the new headquarters of ExxonMobil.
“I see it as a power grab for Brady to come in and grab this,” Riddle said.
A joint statement issued by spokeswomen for Poe and Brady say “there is no animosity” between the two Republicans.
“These members of Congress have a close relationship and share the belief that the Texas Legislature, not the Congress, should be drawing redistricting maps. Both members remain committed to representing their constituents and appreciate the efforts of the legislature to create a fair plan,” according to the statement.
Lawmakers must redraw congressional districts every 10 years when new census data comes out. This year, the map creates 36 U.S. House districts and includes four new seats as a result of the state’s population growth.
More than 87 percent of the state’s growth has been from minorities, leading civil rights activists to demand more representation for those groups. Democrats argued that the Republican plan splits Hispanic and black communities so that conservative white residents would be more likely to win seats in Congress.
The Voting Rights Act requires Texas to make sure the map does not diminish minority representation and all maps require federal approval.
If the map is approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, opponents could take their challenge to the U.S. Department of Justice or file a lawsuit in federal court, where alternative maps could be introduced and considered by the judge.
Republican lawmakers said they expected multiple lawsuits. Democrats remain confident that the Justice Department would rule against the map currently being pushed by the GOP.
“I have no doubt the Justice Department will put a stop to this discriminatory map,” Dukes said. “It’s plain and simple that this plan was motivated by discrimination.”