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North Texas is ground zero for looming fight over how to draw legislative, congressional boundaries

Republicans look to expand their Lone Star majorities with a Senate map released Saturday targeting at least one Democrat. The D-FW area may also get a new congressional district.

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

An exterior of the Texas State Capitol in Austin
An exterior of the Texas State Capitol in Austin Wednesday February 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Andy Jacobsohn/The Dallas Morning News, 02082015xNEWS Andy Jacobsohn / Staff Photographer

AUSTIN — State lawmakers Monday are convening to redraw Texas’ legislation and congressional boundaries, an exercise that will likely bolster the Republican dominance in the state, and — if history is a guide — lead to lawsuits that will claim that the new maps are discriminatory.

North Texas is an important region in the process. The area could get one of the two new congressional districts earmarked for the fast-growing state. Additionally, the makeup of the area’s delegation to the Legislature could change because Republicans are looking to expand their majorities in the House and Senate. Expect a big fight over the 10th Senate District, where incumbent Democrat Beverly Powell of Burleson is in a seat that Senate Republicans are trying to make more favorable for the GOP.

On Saturday, Senate officials released a tentative plan that gives the GOP a chance of at least 19, and potentially 20, seats in the 31-member upper chamber. The proposed new boundaries make it nearly impossible for Powell to get elected. Republicans hold an 18-13 advantage in the Senate.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an act of intentional discrimination,” Powell said Saturday in a statement. She pointed out that the new proposal would disenfranchise Black, Hispanic and Asian voters who currently have a strong voice in the district.

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In order to make the 10th Senate District a GOP district, Republicans have proposed moving Black and Hispanic voters in the south, east and north to nearby districts, where their voting clout would be diminished. If the plan is approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, voting rights activists will pursue legal action.

The new Senate proposal also bolsters Collin County’s 8th Senate District for the GOP, which would help incumbent Republican Angela Paxton of McKinney. Because of demographic shifts, that district had been trending in favor of Democrats.

Republicans are expected to fortify House districts in Dallas County, if that’s still possible. Dallas County could lose a House seat because of a population dip and suburban growth in other counties. That could mean a new district elsewhere, perhaps Collin County.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, talked with retiring Sen. Jane Nelson (right), R-Flower Mound
State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, talked with retiring Sen. Jane Nelson (right), R-Flower Mound, during the opening of the special session on July 8, 2021. Photo Credit: Bob Daemmrich/CapitolPressPhoto, Bob Daemmrich / Bob Daemmrich/CapitolPressPhoto

Even though every Texas redistricting plan has been either changed or tossed out by a federal court after being found in violation of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have pledged to draw fair boundaries.

“I’m confident we can at least get ourselves on the right track for fair maps,” said James White, a Houston-area Republican and member of the House Redistricting Committee. “We don’t have a choice. We have to maintain our focus on the Constitution, the state statutes and the Voting Rights Act.”

White said there’s always bickering associated with redistricting, a process steeped in politics and incumbency protection.

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“We’re all human, obviously, but we just can’t let that get in the way of fair maps,” White said.

Matt Angle, a Democratic Party strategist and director of the research group Lone Star Project, has been active in numerous state and local redistricting efforts.

He said Republicans need to know that fair maps mean that there should be 13 Senate districts preserved that are currently controlled by minority voters. Those districts are represented by Democrats. Angle said that 67 House seats that Democrats control should be left under the control of minority voters, and that because the Texas population explosion has been sparked by minority residents, the congressional districts controlled by minority voters should rise from 13 to 15 seats.

Federal law protects minority-controlled districts, though whether all of the seats listed by Angle are controlled by people of color would be subject to legal interpretation.

“I expect that the Republicans are going to ignore the Voting Rights Act and act like it doesn’t exist,” Angle said. “They will just dismantle districts that are effective for minority voters, and my guess is that Tarrant County is the bull’s-eye.”

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On Saturday, Angle said Republicans “took a meat ax to minority voters in Powell’s District 10.”

Texas senate redistricting  proposal
Source: texas legislative council

With their victories in the 2020 elections, Republicans can create boundaries that will help them maintain power well into the next decade. Though their redistricting proposals are certain to provide the opportunity to increase their majorities in the Texas Legislature and Congress, some Republicans are pushing their leaders to tone down the aggression that was evident in prior redistricting cycles. That’s because maps that aggressively expand GOP majorities could make Republican districts too thin to defend in future years, especially in suburban areas, where Democrats have been helped by transplanted residents.

Still, GOP operatives are likely to sell lawmakers on maps that could lead to significant gains.

Here are some factors to consider.

Drawing a new congressional district

There’s an argument that North Texas and the Houston area are in line for new congressional districts based on population trends. And it’s accepted by many analysts that at least one or both of those districts should be controlled by Hispanic voters.

In the Dallas area, both parties are prepared for a conflict over where to put a new district and how it will impact existing representation. Democrats would like to see a new congressional district for minority voters that won’t scuttle existing districts, most notably the 33rd Congressional District, an area represented by Democrat Marc Veasey, who is black.

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U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth spoke before Jill Biden made a drive-in campaign rally stop on behalf of her husband and then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, at Fair Park in Dallas, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Photo Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News, Tom Fox / Staff Photographer

Republicans may reason that adding Hispanic population to Veasey’s district would lead to Latino voters electing their candidate of choice. Then they could create a new district favorable for a GOP candidate. If that happens, Democrats will argue — in court, if necessary — that Veasey’s district should be protected as is because Black voters in Dallas and Tarrant counties were essential to his elections.

There’s other drama as well. Republicans are likely to fortify the suburban 24th Congressional District, where in 2020 Beth Van Duyne held off Democrat Candace Valenzuela. They’ll also look at beefing up Collin County’s 3rd Congressional District, represented by Republican Van Taylor.

Another big question: Will Republicans tinker with Dallas County-anchored 32nd Congressional District? The once Republican stronghold has been won twice by Democrat Colin Allred. The district in northern and eastern Dallas County was represented by Republican Pete Sessions for 16 years, until demographic shifts and strong campaigning by Allred delivered it to Democrats. If Republicans do ticker with the 32nd District, they’ll have to do so without weakening the adjacent district represented by Taylor.

Members of Congress have been lobbying Texas legislators for much of the summer, and they are eagerly, perhaps nervously, awaiting their fates.

Targeting Tarrant County Senate seat

After Wendy Davis won the state 10th Senate District seat in 2008, Republicans have tried to get it back through the redistricting process. Their 2011 effort failed and was the subject of court battles.

Republicans are taking another crack at it by drawing boundaries that shift population to make it difficult for Powell to hold the seat, but a court fight would be expected if the district lines released Saturday are approved.

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The proposed new 10th District would remove many of the diverse Fort Worth and Tarrant County neighborhoods Powell represents and add reliably red Johnson and Parker counties. Some minority voters in the southern portion of the 10th District were placed in the heavily Black 23rd Senate District, which is represented by Democrat Royce West of Dallas.

Senator Beverly Powell looked over documents at her desk on the second day of the 86th Texas Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019
Senator Beverly Powell looked over documents at her desk on the second day of the 86th Texas Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at the Texas state Capitol in Austin. Photo Credit: Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News, Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer

Statewide, Senate Republican and House districts in the rural areas will have to dip into the cities and suburbs to find needed population. It’s unclear how that will affect North Texas.

Several Senate Republican seats are at risk of being one day being won by a Democrat. That includes the Collin County district represented by Paxton. She’ll likely see her district made stronger for a GOP candidate.

Dallas County remains a tough battleground for Republicans. In the new Senate proposal, one-term incumbent Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Democrat, is now in a heavily minority district. That means it will likely remain under the control of Democrats, and at some point, a viable minority candidate could emerge.

“I’m confident I can win reelection,” Johnson told The Dallas Morning News Saturday after viewing the Senate redistricting proposal.

Later in a statement, he pointed out that he was running in a significantly different district, which had been heavily anchored in North Dallas.

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“I am excited to represent every resident of Senate District 16 as newly drawn,” he wrote. “I particularly look forward to forging new relationships in new areas, though it saddens me to lose from my jurisdiction many strong relationships built over the past four years.”

Angela Paxton acknowledged the applause of supporters at her election return party
Angela Paxton acknowledged the applause of supporters at her election return party at the Marriott Courtyard in Allen on Tuesday night, March 6, 2018. Photo Credit: Stewart F. House / Special Contributor

Impact on local Texas House delegation

Once again Dallas County could see its delegation to the Texas House shrink because of population trends. Lawmakers in the delegation concede that the county will likely lose one seat, compared with the two seats the county lost a decade ago.

Several lawmakers hope that Republicans will revamp the state’s 114th House District, which is represented by retiring Democrat John Turner. Whatever the case, it could be Collin County’s gain. Republicans could draw a district there that favors the GOP, swing either way or lean more favorable to a Democrat.

Gromer Jeffers Jr., political writer. The Howard University graduate and Chicago native has covered four presidential campaigns and written extensively about local, state and national politics. Before The News, he was a reporter at The Kansas City Star and The Chicago Defender. You can catch Gromer every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. on NBC 5's Lone Star Politics.

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