POLITICANS SHOULD NOT DRAW DISTRICTS The public face of partisan redistricting is the absurdly comical district maps that look like a bowl of chopped up spaghetti and make it difficult for many Texans to even figure out who represents them. The more sinister side of partisan redistricting is its’ use as a weapon to enforce party discipline among rank-and-file members. The very threat of redistricting can make a legislator more receptive to party leadership than to the will of his or her own constituents.
- People in those jurisdictions find it difficult to know where to go for assistance.
- Legislators report excessive time driving between offices and meeting with their constituents or even knowing which citizens are their own constituents.
- Politicians in safe districts have little incentive to work across party lines. This creates the gridlock that has made it impossible to collaborate effectively on many issues of critical importance to Texas.
- A survey by Harvard recently identified dysfunctional government as the leading cause of weak economic growth. Redistricting reform was the top correction recommended in that survey.
INCUMBENT PROTECTION PROGRAM Texas’s legislature has one of the highest incumbency rates in the nation – not because voters are happy with the quality of their governance - but because legislative districts are drawn to suppress the kind of competition that might otherwise allow talented newcomers to challenge the status quo. Gerrymandered districts create safe districts that deprive voters of choice at the polls.
- In the 2016 primary elections, 70.5% of incumbents ran unopposed in their party’s primary. (Ballotopedia)
- In the 2016 general election: Texas Senate races - 3 Democratic incumbents faced primary challengers while of the 20 Republican incumbents, no other party challenger; Texas House races, 8 of 51 Democratic incumbents faced primary challengers while of the 33 of 99 Republican incumbents faced primary challengers. (Ballotopedia)
- Competitive elections are essential for government that is accountable to the voters.
BOTH PARTIES ARE GUILTY In 1991, the Democrats redrew the state’s congressional map to create “the shrewdest gerrymander of the 1990s . . . with incredibly convoluted lines . . . pack(ing) heavily Republican suburban areas into just a few districts.” The resulting litigation ended when a federal court voided primary elections in 13 districts and imposed a court-drawn map.
In 2003, it was the Republicans’ turn to gerrymander, resulting in the famous flight of Democrats to New Mexico and then to Oklahoma in an ultimately futile effort to block the maps. That round of redistricting also resulted in a trip for Texas to the Supreme Court.
Between 2000 and 2010, Texas added a record 4.3 million people, of whom 66 percent were Hispanic and more than 90 percent were non-Anglo. Concurrent with this demographic revolution, Republicans captured near super-majorities in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, almost entirely on the strength of Anglo voters. That brought with it intense pressure on GOP lawmakers to find a way to cement those gains at both the congressional and legislative levels.
Minority groups say the only way lawmakers were able to do so was by deliberately undermining the political strength of the state’s growing minority population.
A panel of three federal judges in San Antonio decided in March that yes, indeed, the state did “violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act.”
With this ruling, it sets the stage for Texas being put back under federal supervision for a decade or longer for pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. That would mean that all of the state’s election laws potentially would again need to be pre-approved by a federal court or the Justice Department before they could go into effect. That’s a high price to pay for maps that, at most, netted Republicans a handful of additional seats in a Legislature they appear set to dominate for the foreseeable future.
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY Bills proposing redistricting reform have been put forward in the last four consecutive legislative sessions. These multiple attempts to create either a bipartisan or an independent redistricting commission in Texas have failed. Senator Jeff Wentworth and Representatives Mark Strama and Rafael Anchia sponsored bills in 2005, 2009 and 2011. In 2015, Democrat Reps Rafael Anchia (Dallas) and Donna Howard (Austin) and Senators West and Watson sponsored bills. In this 85th legislature, Representatives Anchia, Howard, Neave, and Bernal and Senator West have sponsored bills. These bills have been handed between generations of lawmakers like a baton-hand off in a distance run.
In the last four session, bills proposing an independent or bipartisan redistricting commission have not been called to review the bills. The committees exist in name only.
The redistricting reform bills of the 85th legislature are HB 369, HJR 32, HJR 74, HJR 118, and SB 209.
- Introduced by Rep Howard: HJR 32 is the constitutional amendment that would create an Independent Redistricting Commission and give Texas citizens the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Texas Constitution to permit the Commission. (Partner bill is HB 369.)
- An almost identical bill was introduced by Representative Rafael Anchia, HJR 74, that bears remarkable similarity to previous bills submitted during his tenure as a legislator.
- HJR 118, introduced by freshman Representative Victoria Neave, is the bill unlike all the rest as it proposes an independent redistricting commission consisting of 14 members.
- Senator Royce West is sponsoring SB 209, which would create an Independent Redistricting Commission for congressional districts but not legislative districts.
These bills are all waiting to be heard by their respective committees (House Committee on Redistricting, Senate State Affairs). It is at the discretion of the chairs of both committees on what bills to call to the agenda. These bills have not been called and looking through the history, have only been called to committee when it’s redistricting sessions – right after the Census. These bills are not heard, especially when it’s about the creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission.