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Texas House committee approves redistricting plan that would give Democrats a Collin County seat

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

The district now represented by retiring lawmaker Scott Sanford would be transformed into an area won by President Joe Biden in 2020.
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A general view of the Texas Capitol during the 87th Texas legislature on Friday, May 7, 2021, in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

By Gromer Jeffers, Jr.

A Texas House committee on Tuesday advanced a redistricting plan that creates a Collin County district favorable to Democrats, while fortifying the Republican districts of several of the county’s veteran GOP lawmakers.

Under the proposed plan to redraw Texas House districts, Collin County’s District 70, now represented by retiring Republican Scott Sanford, would be changed from a district that was once red to a district that in 2020 President Joe Biden carried by a 55% to 44% margin.

Though the revised district carries the same number as the seat held by Sanford, it’s essentially a new district. Collin County has experienced tremendous population growth over the years, including a large influx of Asian, Hispanic and Black voters. The new district would include central and western Plano and part of the Collin County portions of Richardson and Dallas.

But in ceding District 70 to Democrats, Republican map designers bolstered two Collin County districts that had become fierce battlegrounds. Collin County Republicans Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach, both of Plano, will now be in districts that Trump won in 2020 by a 53% to 45% margin. The original House redistricting proposal had those two districts in boundaries that Trump won by a 50% to 48% clip, while leaving Sanford’s district winnable for a Republican candidate.

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“The GOP gave away one open seat to save two individual incumbents,” said David de la Fuente, a senior policy analyst at the center-left group called Third Way. “Republicans are playing defense. They want to protect their majority. Everything else is gravy.”

De le Fuente said the House map, which must be approved by the Legislature, reflects the changing demographics of North Texas.

“It shows that Republicans are hedging that Democratic strength in Collin County goes beyond Trump,” he said. “It points toward a Democratic emergence in Collin County that is long term and is ceding the I-75 corridor to Democrats.”

Having a chance to win the District 70 seat is a victory for Collin County Democrats, who have been on the brink of winning in that once reliably red county for several election cycles.

Representative Matt Shaheen
Representative Matt Shaheen of Plano and other representatives pray during the first day of a legislative special session on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas. (Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer)

Elsewhere in North Texas, the plan changes the Denton County district represented by Democrat Michelle Beckley from leaning Democratic to an area that will most likely be carried by a Republican candidate. Beckley, who has denounced the redistricting plan, is running for Congress against Republican incumbent Beth Van Duyne, instead of seeking re-election.

Democrats also are expected to pick up a seat in Tarrant County that is currently held by Republican Jeff Cason.

Dallas County remains largely unchanged, with Republicans slightly adding potential Republican voters to the districts held by Republicans Morgan Meyer of University Park and Angie Chen Button of Garland. But those districts remain at risk of being won by a Democratic Party candidate.

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Statewide

The latest map, which passed out of committee on a party-line 8-6 vote, puts more districts into the solidly red category. Under this map that now heads to the full House, Biden would have won only 65 of the 150 House districts. The map could change again when it is considered by the full House but Democrats aren’t likely to make many more gains in the Republican-controlled House.

The plan decreases the number of districts where Black and Hispanic residents would make up a majority of voters while creating more majority-white districts. Democrats were opposed to a change made in committee that split up the Black population of Killeen in Bell County into two districts. Black residents make up about 40% of the city’s 157,632 population.

Lawsuits are likely to be filed over any map that is approved, but this is the first redistricting cycle that Texas will not be operating under a clause in the Voting Rights Act that forced former Confederate states like Texas to have changes in election law approved by the Justice Department. The Supreme Court struck that clause down in 2013. There is federal legislation pending — including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act — that would end gerrymandering and restore the pre-clearance provision for redistricting and election laws, but its passage in the Senate is unlikely.

“The adopted map raises serious moral and legal questions in the way it treats communities of color in Texas,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “There exists material underrepresentation in the existing electoral maps, and the proposal advanced today fails to contemplate the growth and diversity of our state.”

Anchía said Latinos are underrepresented in the makeup of state House districts by at least one-third despite accounting for nearly half of the population growth.

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“It’s an incumbency protection plan built on a racial packing and cracking strategy,” said Matt Angle, Democratic strategist and director of the Lone Star Project.

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