Friday, February 18, 2011

Redistricting follies

Lots has been written and and a lot still to be on the coming rework of Congressional and state legislative boundaries for 2012. Mark Jones at Rice's Baker Institute, with whom I seem to disagree most of the time, gets some of it right in this post entitled "Why Houston won't send a Hispanic to Congress":

(O)ne might expect that a second Hispanic-majority district (in addition to Gene Green's CD-29) would be created in the Houston area during the current redistricting process. This is unlikely to happen for four principal reasons.

First, any Hispanic-majority district created in the Houston area would be expected to elect a Democrat. However, the redistricting process is already expected to produce two additional Hispanic majority districts, which will elect Democrats. One district will be in the lower Río Grande Valley, where any district is by definition a Hispanic-majority district, and one will be in the DFW Metroplex which presently lacks a Hispanic-majority district and where suburban Republicans are eager to make their districts safer by packing Democrats into a urban minority-majority district. As a result, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature (along with Governor Rick Perry) is unlikely to support the creation of a third Democratic district in Houston.

The italicized assumption above by Jones is probably false. Aaron Pena was again assigned to the House Redistricting committee and is going to get lots of help drawing a district in the Valley he can quite possibly win.

Second, Houston-area Republicans strongly back the creation of a new Republican majority district in the Northwest portion of the region. Furthermore, this district could be created rather painlessly (from the perspective of Republican incumbents) from some combination of portions of the current districts represented by Representatives Brady, Culberson, McCaul, Olson, Paul and Poe.

Absolutely correct. Just take a look at the spreadsheet at the top of this post. CD-10 alone has almost half of a new district's population to shed. McCaul, an Austin resident, would probably love to have more of Travis and southeast Austin in a new-to-him district, while Harris County's northwest corridor, and further out 290, elect another Republican.

Third, to create a second Hispanic majority district would require significant changes to the districts presently occupied by Representatives Al Green, Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, while the creation of the Republican district in the Northwest suburbs would leave these representatives' districts relatively untouched. As a result -- at least privately -- none of these three Democratic representatives is likely to be overly enthusiastic about the creation of a second Hispanic-majority district (especially Al Green and Jackson Lee).

Fourth, given the relative lack of residential housing segregation among Hispanics in the region, it would be difficult to draw a second compact and contiguous district in which Hispanics comprised a strong majority (55 to 60 percent) of the district's population. Recall, that the creation of minority-majority districts depends on residential housing segregation. If a certain demographic group is well-integrated residentially, then it is much more difficult to draw a district where it comprises a majority of the population.

Accurate -- if slightly obnoxious -- on both counts. The Austin Chronicle suggests that all the new Congresspersons will be up and down Interstate 35...

There does seem to be consensus that the four new seats should be somewhere along I-35. According to a report produced by the Texas Legislative Council, an advisory body to the Lege, 57% of the decade's growth based on the 2009 estimates occurred along the I-35 corridor. Another 39% occurred east of that line, and only 4% in West Texas.

"I think the big controversy will be the battle between Hispanics and Republicans over several areas, in particular the area between Tarrant County and Dallas," (UT law professor Steve) Bickerstaff says. "The issue is whether there is a sufficient Hispanic population there now to create a Hispanic opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act. [The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund] has wanted that for two decades now; this is the third decade. Each time the Hispanic percentage has grown but not reached the legal requirements. I think there will be considerable attention given that this time." Bickerstaff thinks a similar battle could occur in redrawing the state Senate.

"Clearly, the distribution is going to be along the I-35 corridor and the Rio Grande Valley," says Sen. Kal Seliger (R-Amarillo). For the Valley, recent Capitol buzz has strongly suggested that Republicans will try to draw a district that could elect to Congress newly turncoat state House Republican Aaron Peña.

Like I said. If the Lege can't get this done, in regular session or special -- and I believe that they will -- then the Legislative Redistricting Board will do it for them, without benefit of Democratic input ...

"I'm not very optimistic that we'll do anything different in 2011 than we did in 2001," (Sen. Jeff Wentworth) says, noting that the LRB gets legal control over the process if the Lege fails, and the LRB would now be all-Republican. "For partisan Republicans in the majority ... there's not a lot of incentive to sit down and work out a fair map with the Democratic minority, when they know if they just do nothing and adjourn [at the beginning of June], five Republicans will draw the map, and they can be more partisan than the Legislature."

Be reminded that the LRB is comprised of David Dewhurst, Joe Straus, Greg Abbott, Susan Combs, and Todd Staples. Wentworth raises another interesting angle; that the maps might not be submitted to the Justice Department for Voting Rights Act pre-clearance:

Other knowledgeable observers disagree and believe the Republicans won't even bother with the Justice Department and will go directly to the courts. "I think what will happen is Republicans will say [the review process] is unfair," Bickerstaff told the same gathering. "If [the GOP redistricting] is aggressive, you go to the court."

Wentworth, whose district includes part of South Austin, told the Chronicle the same thing. "I don't believe it would be in Texas' interest to even go the route of trying to get precleared by the Department of Justice," Wentworth said. "We've always had the option of going to a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia. We've never taken that route; we've always gone the preclearance route through the Voting Rights division of the DOJ. But I think that would be a waste of time in 2011, and I don't believe we're planning on doing that."

These are just the preliminary skirmishes. Greg goes as deep in the weeds on census data and redistricting maps as you could hope to go. Update: Here's his response to Jones of Rice's Baker. Kuffner has posted lots on the topic already.

Watch for much more ink, airtime, and pixels.

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