Texas state representatives will choose their voters today — grabbing the ones they want, ditching the ones they don't — as the decennial drawing of political maps reaches the floor of the House. They'll start with a map approved last week by the Republican-dominated Redistricting Committee, and then consider dozens of alternatives during the debate.
The starting map includes 107 districts where Republicans beat Democrats in statewide elections in 2010. Not all of those districts are represented now by Republicans, but the average statewide Republican bested the average statewide Democrat in those seats last year. And in all but two of those, the margin was 10 percentage points or more.
The current map, which got 101 Republicans elected into the House, is a little less robust from the GOP's standpoint than the new one proposed by Redistricting Committee Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton. It's got 94 seats where the average Republican beat the average Democrat in a statewide race by 10 points or more.
Democrats are on defense, having lost last session's near parity in the House in the November elections that diminished their ranks to 49 representatives and helped create a GOP supermajority. The authors of the new redistricting maps are taking the opportunity, as best they can, to institutionalize that victory.
They've got business and party backing, too. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the Associated Republicans of Texas and the Republican Party of Texas have all endorsed the proposal. There are competing Republican plans in the mix, but this is the one with the outside establishment backing.
The partisans aren't the only players. Harris County officeholders from both parties are unhappy that this map cuts the county's delegation in Austin to 24 from 25. They'd like another.
West Texas, by the numbers, should lose two seats because population gains elsewhere have pulled most of that population's political power into the triangle formed by Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio and Austin. But West Texas officeholders have submitted proposals that would only cut one seat. And Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, has said he won't seek re-election next year; he's hoping to win a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission.
East Texas is similarly pinched, and officeholders there are offering similar alternatives that cut from other parts of the state while preserving their turf.
Dallas County is losing two of the 16 seats it currently holds. The county grew, but at a slower pace than the state as a whole. The battle there isn't over the numbers, but over which two incumbents won't be coming back. In the Solomons proposal, two veterans are paired with two freshmen.
The GOP's numerical strength works against it in one way: When population shifts dictate cuts, there's no way for the Republicans to avoid putting fellow Republicans in peril. The Solomons map pairs 16 members in eight districts, forcing them to either move to another part of the map or to face one of their colleagues in next year's election. And because most of the House members are Republicans, so are most of the paired lawmakers — all but two of the 16.
The pairs include Erwin Cain and Dan Flynn, and Alan Ritter and Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton in East Texas; Chisum and Rick Hardcastle, and Charles Perry and Jim Landtroop in West Texas; Rodney Anderson and Linda Harper-Brown, and Cindy Burkett and Joe Driver in Dallas County; Raul Torres and Connie Scott in Nueces County; and Hubert Vo and Scott Hochberg — the only Democrats on the list — in Harris County.
Solomons has said his House map adds an additional Latino district, but a coalition of Hispanic groups submitted maps that increase that number by five. The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force argues that because two-thirds of the state's growth over the last decade was Latinos, those numbers should be reflected in the new maps being drawn this year by the Legislature.
The maps are moving quickly. The House already passed a State Board of Education plan, and Solomons didn't present his first plan until two weeks ago. The Senate is waiting until after its vote on a state budget — tentatively scheduled for Thursday — to take up its redistricting maps. After they've done their own maps, lawmakers will start presenting congressional maps.
Because of the state's rapid growth, those will include four new seats to fight over.