For Texas, a Larger Footprint in Congress

For the seventh consecutive decade, Texas will gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the decennial apportionment process — this year up from 32 representatives to 36.

When these four new congressional members take office after the 2012 elections, what will this increase mean for Texas? Extra clout, especially since the state will send the largest Republican delegation in the nation to a House that just switched back to GOP control.

“It does increase the weight of Texas in national decision making, most obviously in the House,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Having a larger Republican delegation will mean a heavy footprint for Texas.”

This year, Texas gained more new representatives than any other state, reflecting its increased population — up 20 percent in the last decade from 20 million to 25 million. The state significantly outpaced population growth nationally, which increased by a relatively anemic 9.7 percent, largely from growth in the South and West, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Apportionment, which began in 1790, is the first tangible results from the decennial count of American households by the Bureau. The agency mailed 130 million forms and knocked on 50 million doors to count residents and collect basic information about them. The count is used to determine how many representatives each state sends to Congress, but also how many votes each receives as part of the Electoral College in presidential elections. 

 

In Texas, the population growth will have practical implications. For starters, the increase should mean more money from the federal government, which uses formulas based on population to disburse funds. But the extra members of the House can also set aside more money for specific projects, known as earmarks, although that practice is now under assault by incoming members backed by Tea Party groups.

The increase will also create political challenges. The state Legislature, which gavels into session for its biennial session in January, now must redraw congressional districts and also find room for the four extra representatives. The process will begin in the spring after the Census Bureau releases more detailed data on the population.

Since redistricting is an intensively political exercise, it should in theory benefit Republicans, who have large majorities in the Legislature. But lawmakers must draw the districts where the voting population is growing while also considering minority voters’ participation, which could make it difficult for the GOP to draw districts that favor them completely. It’s likely that suburban areas around Dallas and Houston, which are growing rapidly and generally tend to favor conservatives, will win two of the new seats. But it’s also possible that the Democrat-friendly Rio Grande Valley, also growing faster than other parts of the state, will get the other two seats.

“The Latino community of Texas, which represents 70 percent of the growth in our state and 37 of the population overall, will be the true benefactor,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, a member of the state House Redistricting Committee.

In 2003, Republicans used their power in the state Legislative to draw seats in a way that hurt incumbent Democrats. This session could see Republican incumbents seeking to keep their own seats safe, says Mark Jones, a professor who chairs political science at Rice University in Houston.

“It’s messy whenever you get this many seats,” he said.

 

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