Today Michael Li, a Dallas attorney who has been heavily involved in the Texas redistricting process, put out the latest information of proposed maps and reasoning by interested parties to redistricting. As you probably know the redistricting maps proposed by the 82nd Texas Legislature have been challenged in court by several parties, primarily Hispanic interest parties such as LULAC, MALC, and the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force. While some may think redistricting will force all sorts of challenges in November, as the Texas Tribune notes, the real challenges will be in March when candidates in the two parties will decide who will potentially win the district. Very few of the districts were drawn as competitive and “only six of the 150 House districts were won by one party or the other by less than 10 percentage points.” Monday was the deadline for proposals to be submitted by interested parties. So how did those proposals look?While I am no redistricting expert, in looking at this there are some key things to note when considering new districts, especially in a state like Texas. With a growing Hispanic minority population, many of the old conventions need to be reviewed to make sure the state reflects the demographics as accurately as possible. Remember that when drawing geographic district lines, a small geographic segment could have substantial demographic impact on the makeup of the district. Picking up an neighborhood or a particular street in a neighborhood could change the entire ethnic balance of the district. So let's dig into a few of the proposals. BTW, you can look at any one of the proposals by using the Texas Legislature's District Viewer. Just put in the current proposal (C185) for the Base and any one of the maps for the Overlay.
Austin wants a single district
One of the biggest challenges in drawing the new districts has been what to do in Travis County. Austin is a growing city with an annualized growth rate of around 2.0% in recent years. Austin proper currently has a population close to 800,000 people. Travis County has a population of over 1,000,000 based on the 2010 census, making it one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Based on current projections, Travis county is expected to double in population by the year 2025. Both Travis County and Austin are well within the ideal district size of 698,488 per the legislature's redistricting office. It would make sense for both Austin and Travis County to have a single member representing the area. However, due to the predominantly Democratic make-up of the area, Republicans have adopted a fracturing approach and split the county up into five different congressional districts as I noted in a blog entry.
One of the proposals submitted by a group commonly known as the Travis County Plaintiffs would adopt a map (C166) proposed by Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) that moves CD25, currently held by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), completely within Travis County and moves CD35 to another part of the state, eliminating the current Doggett-Castro battle underway for CD35. A few of the points in their brief state that this map would have 28 of the districts having precisely the ideal population and the other 8 districts having a variance of less than 1% of ideal. It also meets several of the court criteria including the first Gingles factor that “a minority group must be sufficiently large and geographically compact to comprise a majority of the district.”
Canseco looks out for his buddies
Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-San Antonio) currently represents CD23, a district that starts in San Antonio and runs along the southwest corner of Texas all the way to El Paso. The DOJ recently contested some of the districts proposed in the new map, singling out CD23 (and CD27 also) as underperforming in its ability to elect a Hispanic candidate of choice based on “racially polarized voting.” While the district has elected Hispanic candidates of choice in 2006 and 2008 the DOJ did not feel that with the proposed changes this trend would continue. Currently the district sort of does a “hand grip” around the western edge of San Antonio. In the proposed plan that grip would still exist but the district would include Frio, most of LaSalle and parts of Atascosa couties and less of Bexar County.
Since the DOJ submitted its letter and the court expressed concerns about the district, Canseco submitted his own proposal and maps (C209 and C212) to redistricting to address the concerns. In doing so, Canseco also addressed a concern by Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (R-San Antonio) who felt the proposed maps did injustice to his district. More specifically Gonzalez took issue with the fact that the Alamo and downtown San Antonio were no longer in his district and now in the new CD35 district. Based on Canseco's maps, he got Charlie's back and engineered a bizarre gerrymander that gave downtown, the Alamo, and King William back to CD20. In fact, Canseco's only reasoning for this change is because Gonzalez objected.
His proposed still includes CD35 pretty much as it was proposed by the Legislature with the changes in Bexar County to cover Gonalez's issues. It still supports the Doggett-Castro battle by doing nothing to Travis County, thus supporting contentions that state Republicans are trying to redistrict Doggett out of a job. According to Li “The maps also would make changes to Congressman Canseco's district by placing Maverick County wholly within CD-28 and putting the Harlandale ISD wholly in CD-23- in each instance also in response to concerns expressed by the court at trial. The maps also make several what Canseco terms concessions in order to try to 'obtain agreement by both Democrat and Republican members of the Texas congressional delegation.' According to Canseco, these 'concessions' include splitting Nueces County to preserve distinct communities of interest.”
Hispanic parties and gerrymandering
Finally we have the district proposed by several Hispanic interest groups such as LULAC, MALC, and the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force. While the proposals do make changes in the Austin/San Antonio area, they don't exhibit the amount of gerrymandering you'll find in the DFW area where some of the districts are no wider than five blocks. I joked in one blog comment that you might even find an image of the Virgin Mary in one of the districts.
MALC's plan (C211) retains the boundaries of CD35 but calls it CD34 instead. It also reduces the Travis County footprint and moves more of Doggett's current CD25 west of IH-35. In an interesting spin, MALC seems to also give Gonzalez some love and moves downtown San Antonio, the Alamo, and King William back into CD20, following the same path as Canseco's (do you see a trend here?). CD35 moves up to Dallas/Tarrant counties and that's where the gerrymandering goes on steroids. It's almost impossible to make out the districts which seem to follow some pretty bizarre paths, especially in Tarrant County.
The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force proposal retains CD35 but pretty much takes it out of the core of San Antonio, giving that and some of the northeastern part of San Antonio to CD20. That resolves the Gonzalez “mine” (imagine a kid with a toy box) issue by just kicking CD35 out of downtown entirely. It also takes in more of Guadalupe County. It still puts part of Travis County in CD35 but puts more of Austin in CD25, possibly giving Doggett a better chance in his current district. It takes Travis down from five districts to three districts in terms of representation. Looking at Dallas/Tarrant counties you have even wilder gerrymandered districts, including CD35 which appears to be five blocks wide in a few places.
Then there's LULAC's proposal (C208) which would eliminate the proposed CD35 and create a new CD35 in the coastal bend area. Within Bexar County it pretty much follows the current districts with the exception of cutting out the northeastern section of CD20, most likely to stay within the optimal district size. Probably in an effort to get as much opportunity for acceptance, LULAC submitted two other plans for the DFW area (C206 and C207). While the plans don't gerrymander too badly they still create some interesting maps in the area.
Are we there yet?
While these are interesting proposals they, once again, represent special interests or the interests of incumbents who really are only looking out for their own self-serving needs. Going over these maps one has to ask where the voter is in this entire process. To be honest, the voter's left out in the cold while the wonks and judges draw the lines. This process, in itself, further drives me towards pushing for a redistricting commission. At this point, I'm not sure how much passion needs to be placed in the race between Castro and Doggett. While I'm rooting for CD35 and Doggett's district to be improved for him, I'm not sure what to think based on these proposals. Let's just hope they get them drawn by the time primary season kicks in full gear.