Not only is there finally a congressional map in legislative form, but Gov. Rick Perry has added that to the list of issues lawmakers will address during the special session. Hearings on the new map have been set for Friday.
Texas lawmakers finished their own redistricting maps during the regular session, but waited until the first day of their special session to unveil a congressional redistricting proposal. It's available online at the Texas Legislative Council's website. It's a joint effort by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton — the chairmen, respectively, of the House and Senate redistricting committees.
It's being panned by Democrats and by minority groups. State Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat who has submitted his own congressional map, said the Solomons/Seliger map effectively cuts the number of minority opportunity districts at a time when the growth of the state was almost entirely attributed to growth in the black and Hispanic population. He was especially unhappy with their version of what the political districts in Dallas-Fort Worth should look like. "A plan that splits and packs the 2.1 million African Americans and Latinos in Dallas and Tarrant Counties to provide us only one effective voice in Congress is not just illegal, it's wrong," Veasey said.
A coalition of Latino groups that submitted partial state maps for congressional districts blasted the Republican plan. "The Solomons-Seliger map does not increase the number of Latino opportunity congressional districts despite the fact that 65% of the State’s growth over the past decade was comprised of Latinos," said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Instead, the map gerrymanders more than nine million Latinos in Texas to make sure that we have no more electoral opportunity than we did in 1991."
It includes a district for each of the current 32 incumbents and adds four new open seats, two of them with blacks and Hispanics in the majority. Those two districts voted for Democrat Bill White in the last gubernatorial election; the other two new districts gave more than 56 percent of their vote to Republican Rick Perry.
The current delegation has 32 members, 23 of of them Republicans. The new map puts all of those Republicans into safe districts (two of the current incumbents were elected in districts that previously belonged to Democrats), puts one Democrat into hostile territory and adds the two new seats. It's designed to elect 26 Republicans and 10 Democrats to Congress.
The new open seats are west of the DFW Metroplex in Parker and Wise counties, in Central Texas stretching south from Austin to San Antonio, in South Texas in a district that stretches from the Rio Grande north to Lavaca County, and in Houston and East Texas in a district shaped like a jumbo shrimp that starts in Houston and loops to the north and then east and then south into Jefferson County on the Louisiana border.
The map includes 14 congressional districts where black and Hispanic voters make up a majority of the population. All but three of those are Hispanic districts, and three of the 14 have Republican incumbents: Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi and Francisco Canseco of San Antonio. The new districts in Central and South Texas have minority majority populations.
"They're enlarging Tom DeLay's footprint by trampling on the voting rights of Latinos and African-Americans who were responsible for getting four new districts," said Ed Martin, who's been consulting with several Democrats on redistricting issues.
No incumbents got paired in the same districts, but not all of them got off scot-free. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, would go from a current district where Perry won 41 percent of the vote in November 2010 to a new one where the Republican governor got 55 percent. Farenthold would get some partisan cover in the new map; his current district gave Perry 49 percent, while his new one gave the governor 57 percent. Canseco's improves a bit, too, going from just under 50 percent for the governor to just over 53 percent.