A new redistricting map, drawn to promote and protect Republican interests in the U.S. Congress, sailed out of the GOP-led state Senate Monday.
The map, predictably approved 18-12 along strict party lines, would give Republicans a decent chance of retaining every congressional seat they now hold. They also would have a good shot at picking up one additional district with the elimination of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who would be drawn into a heavily Republican seat.
Currently, the GOP has a 23-9 edge in the Texas congressional delegation.
Elections are always unpredictable, but the GOP clearly is looking to maximize its gains with the proposal. And if the map passed by the Senate gets through all the legal hoops ahead, the GOP could potentially end up with 26 seats, leaving Democrats with 10. That includes two seats that Republican candidates won in 2010, in major upsets, in predominately Hispanic districts in South Texas.
During the debate, Democrats complained loudly — and are sure to argue in court — that the plan illegally packs blacks and Hispanics into a small number of districts and fails to adhere to provisions in the federal Voting Rights Act aimed at protecting and expanding the interests of minority voters.
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said minority groups were shut out of the Senate's congressional redistricting proceedings, which included a single public hearing. He called it the “most closed process I’ve ever been involved in.”
Likewise, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, complained that there were no lawyers of African-American or Hispanic origin advising senators. The author of the proposal, state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, noted that there is a Latino lawyer advising House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
“I don’t differentiate between House Hispanics and Senate Hispanics,” Seliger told Zaffirini.
The map creates a newly configured Hispanic district stretching from east Austin to San Antonio, with more population in Bexar County than Travis County. That could set up a potentially nasty primary between Doggett and a Latino Democrat from the San Antonio area.
In an emailed response to reporters, Doggett called the proposal an "outrageous scheme" that would harm a unique community.
"I believe the crooked lines of this map will be rejected as a blatant violation of the Voting Rights Act," Doggett said. Republicans who would be happy to see Doggett go were more than happy to point out a 1981 article from the Dallas Times Herald quoting Doggett about drawing a congressional map designed to benefit Democrats.
"If we can be of assistance to Democratic congressmen, we ought to do it," Doggett was quoted as saying.
The seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a 2008 and 2012 GOP presidential candidate, would also be dramatically transformed. Paul would pick up about 300,000 new voters under the proposal, potentially exposing him to a spirited primary challenge while placing him in a district with more ethnic minorities and union members.
Republicans have a 19-12 edge in the state Senate. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, was absent Monday. The map now moves to the Texas House.