Solomons Map Could Solidify GOP Hold on Districts

A proposed map for redrawing Texas House district boundaries could help fortify the Republicans' majority in the lower chamber in 2012.

Plugging in the returns from the last presidential election shows how the changes in the new map, proposed by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, reshape numerous House districts across the state in a way that could protect most of the Republicans' two-thirds majority.

Under Solomons' proposal, which will likely by changed this week by amendments proposed by his House colleagues, GOP presidential nominee John McCain would have won 98 of the 150 seats in the House, a six seat improvement over 2008, according to a Tribune analysis. (Republicans currently hold 101 of the seats).

The plan improves the Republican's chances by defensively redrawing maps so that swing districts — those in which neither party holds a strong advantage, often because of regional or demographic factors — lean a bit more towards the GOP. In many cases, the districts grew more Republican by shaving away from strongly conservative districts nearby.

And at least one other seat was almost totally redone to give a fighting chance to Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, a former Democrat who switched parties last year, even though he represents Democrat-friendly Hidalgo County.

These maps show how the districts have changed, with red colors representing increased performance by McCain, assuming that election were held under the new boundaries. Darker blue shades represent stronger performance by President Obama, who won just 28 counties in Texas but had healthy pockets of support in urban areas and the valley. Dark borders represent a switch in the presidential winner away from the 2008 incumbent's party.

In Harris County, for example, Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, won back his seat in 2010 from Democratic former Rep. Kristi Thibaut. The southwest Harris County district voted for Obama in 2008, when Thibaut swept Murphy from office. Now the district appears to lean a little more to the Republicans under Solomons' proposal:

Here's another example. In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, districts that have been close in the past — those held by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, and Stefani Carter, R-Dallas — became more Republican. Their districts, as constituted in 2008, voted for Obama. McCain's margin increased by five percentage points in Harper-Brown's district, for example, in the redrawn map. McCain's performance also increased in Rep. Barbara Nash, R-Arlington, whose district today sits vertically along State Highway 360. Its new shape snakes to the northwest, picking up more conservative voters — giving McCain an 11 percentage point increase in a hypothetical race, the data show.

Currently conservative districts, such as those represented by Solomons; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, and Van Taylor, R-Plano, saw their Republican strength reduced slightly, as evidenced by the light blue shades, but they're still solidly Republican.

In Bexar County, the districts' partisan makeup remained largely the same, though Rep. Ruth McClendon's strongly Democratic district gained GOP areas at higher percentage points than others. It still remains strongly Democratic, however.

As we noted last week, Peña's district in the Rio Grande Valley changed dramatically thanks to his switch the Republican party. It still leans Democratic, at least according to the 2008 presidential race, but Gov. Rick Perry carried precincts in the newly formed district by a 50.1 percent margin in his 2010 re-election:

In El Paso, the districts still lean Democratic, but the districts changed enough to increase McCain's performance slightly. Interestingly, McCain actually won Rep. Pete Gallego's district in 2008, even though the Alpine Democrat kept his seat in 2008. As constituted now, Obama would have won.

Travis County and its surrounding areas now how have a conservative-leaning district thanks to the pairing of Reps. Hubert Vo, D-Houston and Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. Vo's district 149 is now an open seat that stretches across Milam, Williamson and Burnet counties. The newly constituted district would have elected McCain.

The district held by Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, which was represented by a Democrat in 2008, former Rep. Valinda Bolton, saw its support of McCain increase by 10 percentage points. Newly elected Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who picked off Democratic former Rep. Diana Maldonado, also received more GOP voters, fortifying him from a 2012 challenge.

The Solomons proposal would dramatically change the makeup of some districts. If approved, eight current representatives would be running in districts that include fewer than 25 percent of their former constituents. They include Reps. Wayne Christian, R-Center; Pena, R-Edinburg; Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, Marva Beck, R-Waco; Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon; Tracy King, D-Batesville; Nash, R-Arlington; and Murphy, R-Houston.

The district's that saw the largest percentage point improvement in McCain performance were reps. Peña (22%); Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi (21%); Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie (15%); Beck (14%); Nash (12%); Vo (12%); Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur (11%); Workman (10%); Murphy (9%); and Syvelster Turner, D-Houston (8%). Pena still leans Obama. Deshotel and Turner are solid Obama.

Again, the Solomons proposal is just that — a plan. Expect more changes to the map in the coming weeks as members jockey for advantage — and self preservation.

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