THE BIG CONVERSATION:
As predicted, Texas won big on Tuesday. Now comes the less predictable part.
Long-awaited census data released yesterday showed Texas' population growing 20 percent within the last decade to 25.1 million, netting the state four additional congressional seats — the most pickups in the nation.
The gains seen in Texas and other Sun Belt states accord with long-term trends that have projected a shift in electoral power from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West, but the shorter-term effects on Texas involve a lot of politics and, for now, a little bit of guesswork.
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That's the redistricting process, for which the Legislature is responsible. And while the map-drawing for those four new seats will no doubt produce some of the hottest political heat in the coming legislative session, with parties and groups jockeying to influence the process, many believe the seats will split along party lines: two for the Republicans and two in predominantly Hispanic areas, which favor Democrats.
Where those seats turn up is less clear, but observers say they'll land where population has surged: in the Houston area, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the Rio Grande Valley. Central Texas is another possibility. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, tells the Express-News that a Dallas seat would likely be drawn for Democrats and a Houston seat for Republicans. A new South Texas district could appear north of Corpus Christi. At this point, it's all speculation (and for more, check out the Cook Political Report).
Lawmakers now await the release of county numbers, which will offer them a better picture of district trends as they look to slice and dice the political map.
- An Austin appeals court halted a high-profile death penalty hearing on Tuesday, ruling that District Judge Charlie Baird should have recused himself from a case investigating the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham, whose defenders say was wrongfully executed for the arson deaths of his children. Navarro County District Attorney R. Lowell Thompson, whose office prosecuted Willingham, had requested that Baird recuse himself in light of his previous ruling on the case in 1995 and reputation as a death penalty opponent.
- State Rep. Warren Chisum, a candidate for speaker of the Texas House, said Tuesday that he'll force a Republican House Caucus vote, hoping the party unites behind a more conservative candidate than moderate incumbent Joe Straus, whom the GOP could then oust without any Democratic support. Later in the day Tuesday, state Rep. Ken Paxton, another Republican looking to unseat Straus in a long-shot bid from the right, announced the support of four House members. Straus has said that even if the caucus holds a vote, he has the support of more than enough House members to win.
"It's all politics, but when it gets into members of a legislative committee who have sworn an oath, it should be not about politics, but about the facts." — State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Texas City, on contested elections, like Republican Dan Neil's current challenge to Democrat Donna Howard in a Travis County state House race. With Neil's challenge headed to the House, the Trib's Morgan Smith takes a look at who's doing what and what could happen.
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