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Divide and conquer–The Redistricting Way

September 18th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

The redistricting trial finished its closing arguments last week in federal court, with some interesting statements being made by both sides. At stake are not only the boundaries of the current 32 congressional districts in Texas but four new districts allocated Texas as a result of the population growth of the state, primarily fueled by a growth in the number of Hispanics. With four new districts in the mix it creates even more challenges are legislators in Austin worked to create the new maps before the biennium session was over. What you’ll start to see as you look at these districts and others across the state is an interesting approach that seems to splinter urban centers by paring the urban areas with rural areas surrounding the cities. It’s a sort of divide and conquer strategy employed by Republican lawmakers to attempt to keep a Republican majority.

The Texas Tribune provides a good visualization of how the new maps ended up compared with how they were before, including the new districts planned for Bexar/Travis, Tarrant/Dallas, Harris, and the Valley. As you can see, several of the new districts seem to take gerrymandering to the extreme, such as the new 35th district split between Bexar and Travis counties. I call it the “IH-35 road trip” district in that it follows IH-35 to link the two urban areas. Many believe it was drawn to force Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) into a tight race in the Democratic primary by pitting him against a young Hispanic legislator from San Antonio. After the vetting ended, Joaquin Castro ended up being the challenger to Doggett, who is having to leave his current district to run for this seat.

Hispanics accounted for 65% of Texas’ growth of 25 million this past decade and should have fostered the creation of at least two Hispanic Opportunity Districts, possibly three. However, some would argue that only one new HOD was created during this last redistricting drive by Republicans, that being the 35th District running from the southeastern section of Travis County, primarily Hispanic, down IH-35 to downtown San Antonio, including the Westside. It’s primarily Hispanic and should help open the door for a new Hispanic representative in Texas. However, in drawing the district the Republicans also tried to box out Doggett in his own district, essentially pulling a land swap (“we’ll give you a Hispanic district provided we get to take another district for ourselves”).

One of the challenges Republicans are starting to face with redistricting in Texas is the continued growth of the urban areas of Texas in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. These areas continue to grow as more companies relocate workers and increase jobs in the areas. With the growth of financial, technology, and oil and gas industries during the past decade the urban areas are seeing an influx in workers from around the country. That influx has also tended to start creating blue urban areas, since many of the workers are bringing their own values with them and infusing them into the areas.

Looking at a map of the 2010 Texas gubernatorial race, you’ll see the blue counties are mostly in the urban areas and the Valley. The same holds true for the 2008 presidential race. This has to worry some Republicans who know that redistricting is designed to balance the districts with population. If the growth in population focuses on urban areas where the residents are more likely to be Democrats, something has to be done to maximize as many districts for Republicans as possible.

Welcome to “divide and conquer,” a strategy where an urban area is essentially splintered into multiple districts and paired with rural areas that tend to vote more Republican. By dividing up the urban area into a bunch of districts it’s much easier to dilute the vote and attempt to hold the district for a Republican seat. This is what has happened with Travis County where currently it’s represented by the 10th, 21st, and 25th Districts. With the new maps it will be broken up into the 10th, 17th, 21st, 25th, and the newly created 35th. Each district essentially has a sliver of Travis in it and mostly consists of rural areas around Travis.

During closing arguments in the redistricting trial held in San Antonio this past week a query by one of the judges seems to set the stage for a redraw of the maps. “Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former judge on the Texas Supreme Court who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, repeatedly questioned Schenck, asking if the state felt compelled to apportion the four new congressional districts to reflect the fact that most of the state’s population increase came from minority populations. Schenck denied that the state had any such obligation,” according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News.

What is certain is that any thought that Republicans can keep this strategy of dividing up the urban areas to retain seats is very questionable. Any decision in the San Antonio trial will most likely follow a decision in another federal court in Washington, reviewing if the maps are legally enforceable or not.

We’ll see how divided Texas will end up being after it’s all said and done.

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