THE MAP – This is a map of Texas’ current Congressional districts. Some look like a Rorschach Test. All these lines are going to change after our beloved Legislature draws up new districts based on the 2020 U.S. Census.
The good news is that soon Texas shall gain two new seats – and hopefully desks, too – in the U.S. House of Representatives, more than any other state. The bad news is that we should have gained not two new members but three, as every pre-census estimate predicted. And this undercount is by design.
As everyone knows, the House seats are divvied up by population. (The total number has been set at 435 since 1929.) In our case, each district would represent about 763,000 Texans.
So why didn’t we get that extra seat? Because there was an all-out effort by our state’s GOP leaders to hold down the tally by the U.S. Census Bureau. “Don’t count minorities,” they said quietly. “They vote Democrat.” And that’s usually true.
When it comes to the 2020 Census (actually the Census Bureau announced its apportionment figures on April 26, 2021, because no one would talk to a census-taker due to Covid-19), Texas handled it differently from other states. Worried about an undercount, California allocated $187 million beginning in 2019 to make sure everyone was counted. New York spent $30 million and still lost a seat.
Altogether 25 states poured close to a third of a billion dollars in head-count programs. Texas spent, uh, nothing. Texas lawmakers declined to put additional state dollars toward the census during the 2019 legislative session, rejecting proposals by Democratic lawmakers to create a statewide outreach program. Then one month before the count began (ONE MONTH!), the Texas secretary of state’s office quietly put out word that it would spend up to $15 million on an advertising campaign for a head-count. Get this: It was paid for by dipping into federal dollars meant to help Texans deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas currently sends 36 members to the U.S. House; 23 of them are Republicans. With the two new members, the GOPers want to increase those numbers by simply drawing up favorable districts. But this may be a problem. Between the 2010 and the 2020 censuses, the Lone Star State grew faster than any other state. The 2020 census put the state’s population at 29,145,505 -- a 16 percent jump from 25.1 million in 2010. Our main gains were in the urban areas – the Metroplex, Houston and its suburbs and the I-35 corridor from Austin to San Antonio. How much did they grow? A lot. The Metroplex’s population increased from 6.3 million to 7.6 million in the past decade. Harris County added about 800,000 residents. Hays County — between Austin and San Antonio — doubled its population in the last decade.
But of the state’s 254 counties, 143 – all of them rural – saw their populations decline since 2010. As an example, the Thirteenth Congressional District, which spans the northern Panhandle, has a GOP congressman. It needs to add another 60,000 residents to meet federal requirements for a district.
Who are these additional Texans? As we have noted before, the state’s population grows by about 1,000 a day – half are born here, the other move here. Either way, most are Hispanics. According to the Texas Tribune, minorities accounted for 95 percent of the state’s population growth. Texas gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident since 2010. Houston’s Hispanic population is now nearly as large as the non-Hispanic white population, with just half a percentage point separating them. Donald Trump swept those rural counties in the 2018 presidential election, but they are losing voters while the increases – minorities – will mainly vote Democratic.
Along with high profile Congressional redistricting, is the redistricting of the state legislature, who members have drawn up their own districts. That’s like hiring an arsonist for fire chief. The State Board of Education is a little known operation, and justifiably so. But that board is also elected by districts with equal population and is set for redistricting. The majority of members are die-hard right-wing Christians who frown on teaching our children race theory, evolution, integration and the need for masks. Maybe they could be redistricted to, say, an off-shore oil rig.
OK, let’s say you’re a Republican adviser hired to solve these problems. Some solutions are easy. Insist all the ballots are only printed in English, and have all your candidates be listed with their nicknames. Edward “Pancho” O’Brien. Martha “Serena” Horowitz. Suggest in campaign speeches the candidates refer to “Mex-Tex” restaurants. Hire Donald Trump to run border security. He’ll bring back the horses. Draw new districts with a computerized map showing a cohesive group of geographically connected citizens – sort of a circle or square. This would create a mixture of voters and tight elections with competing ideas. Then shred the map. Check out the number of Volvos, organic gardens and bicyclists in an area and put them in the same district with German farmers in Kerrville and retired generals in Lakeway.
Texas is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Austin has long been a liberal island in a sea of conservatives -- Joe Biden won Travis County by 45-points -- so it has been gerrymandered into four different Congressional districts. One goes from Austin to just outside Houston. Two others wind from Austin to Mexico. The GOP needs to draw a district on a fall Saturday afternoon. That puts 102,000 liberals – mostly UT students – in one place: UT’s stadium. Harris County’s Congressional districts wander all over the place.
The GOP should scatter participants in our Cinco de Mayo parade throughout River Oaks. Taking a page from Gov. Greg Abbott’s playbook, offer a $10,000 bounty, plus legal expenses, to anyone who identifies a Democrat about to vote, or the Uber driver who takes that person to the voting booth. Some Texans can count on not being counted.
Ashby is redistricted at firstname.lastname@example.org