The Texas House tentatively approved new political districts early this morning on a 92-52 vote after hours of nips and tucks that left the proposal they started with mostly intact.
They turned back wholesale redesigns presented by various groups, including the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, a coalition of Latino groups, and a map prepared by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. They also got a look at a map drawn by Republicans who wanted to press for more GOP seats than in the proposed map, though that one never came to a vote. And they picked and chose their way through amendments that changed the political lines only in particular regions, counties, cities and neighborhoods.
"I recognize that some members are not going to be pleased with the results of the map," Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, predicted at the beginning of the 16-hour debate. He said the lines and the stakes were "very personal" to each of the 150 House members in the room.
The Republicans, with a 101-49 supermajority, easily fended off Democratic attempts to overhaul the maps to increase the voting power of minorities. But not all of the votes split along party lines. In fact, three Democrats voted for the map when the debate ended, and 10 Republicans voted against it.
West Texas freshman Reps. Jim Landtroop, R-Plainview, and Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, were drawn into the same district in Solomons' plan. They got their own districts after the House accepted an amendment.
Much of the debate was dull — designed more for future court fights over redistricting than for rhetorical effect. Those fights are a near certainty, given redistricting history in Texas and the size of the differences between members over the plans. For instance, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, presented eight different plans he said would increase minority representation in the Texas House; the Solomons' plan would add one Latino seat in a state where about two-thirds of the growth over the last decade is attributed to Latinos. One of his alternatives, he said, would create more districts with populations that are more than 50 percent Latino, more than 50 percent black, and more than 50 percent black and Latino combined than in the Solomons map. As he argued for the map, he said he hopes the courts will be more receptive than the Republican Legislature, and said that'll be the next step: "This is exactly where we're going to go." The House voted down that plan, 96-45, along party lines. A similar fate befell his other proposals.
Some parts of the debate were lively. Black representatives wanted to change a Dallas County district that they fear would turn what is now a black district into a Latino district. Solomons said the numbers were similar in his map to the current maps, and said there's not a specific trigger that marks the sort of change the black representatives feared. "If you flip something, you're bound to have it reviewed," he said in response to a question. "I don't know what the numbers are ... but if you flip it, you're going to be under some sort of [legal] scrutiny."
Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said then — and later, when presenting a proposed replacement map for the whole state — that Solomons' plan wouldn't get the support of the House's black members. "I think it's very important for African Americans not to participate in their own demise," he said. "We are not interested in being an ineffective group in the Texas House of Representatives."
The House went through the maps by region and by big counties, breaking for almost three hours at one point while lawmakers from Harris County haggled over changes to their maps. They came to an agreement — at least enough of them to change those lines and get them worked into Solomons' map.
They brought the debate to a close shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday.
Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, spoke against the Solomons map and said he and six other East Texas representatives worked out a regional fix they preferred. But, he said, they didn't want to agree to conditions offered for a late-breaking amendment; they were asked to agree to the rest of the map for the House if their regional plan was heard. "I will not stand before you tonight and agree with this map," he said. Christian and others were also touting a statewide map that they contended would elect more Republicans than the Solomons plan. But they decided not to offer it, avoiding a public display of differences within the Republican ranks in the House.
Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, voted against the map, saying he didn't think it was a fair representation of the state's demographic changes. Villarreal, the vice chairman of the redistricting panel, said the map cuts the number of minority opportunity districts — areas where minority voters have sufficient numbers to elect a candidate — when it should have added them. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, said the map should include more minority districts and doesn't offer black voters the protections due them under the Voting Rights Act.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said he was voting against the map because it cut communities in his current district in half. In one case, the new map cuts an apartment complex in half so that, as he put it, it's impossible to tell what district someone is in unless you know their unit number. "That defies all concepts of communities of interest," he said. "... That's the kind of stuff that I think drives our constituents up the wall."