Senate approves map cementing GOP dominance in upper chamber, dividing up Tarrant county’s voters of color

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, speaks to state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, on his resolution to declare an emergency on the Texas-Mexico border on April 2, 2019.

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The Texas Senate has approved a new political map for its own members that would entrench Republican dominance in the chamber for the next 10 years, even as Democrats argued the changes do not reflect the interests of people of color in the state who have fueled Texas' growth over the last decade.

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The proposal, put forth by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, was approved late Monday by a vote of 20-11 and would draw safe districts for GOP incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified in recent years and started voting for more Democrats.

Sixteen Republican incumbents would be drawn into safe districts for reelection, while two Senate seats being vacated by Republicans would almost certainly go to new GOP candidates over Democrats next year based on the percentage of voters in the district who voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in last year's presidential race.

At the same time, Huffman's proposal added no additional districts where people of color would represent a majority of the district's eligible voters, even as Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans drove 95% of the state's growth since the last census. Hispanics, in particular, were responsible for half of the increase of nearly 4 million people in the state's population and now nearly match the number of white Texans in the state.

The state currently has 21 districts where the majority of eligible voters are white, seven with Hispanic majorities, one where Black residents are in the majority and two where no racial group makes up more than half of the total.

"The maps that are being proposed are not an accurate reflection of the growth of Texas," said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who leads the Senate Hispanic Caucus. "Without any changes to this current map, the state of Texas could potentially go 30 years, think about that, three decades, without having added a Hispanic or Latino opportunity district."

Menéndez proposed a map that he crafted with civil rights organizations to add one district in North Texas where Hispanics would make up the majority of eligible voters and be poised to select their preferred candidate. Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in Dallas County. That proposal was rejected.

Upon pushback from Democratic senators, Huffman insisted that she'd drawn the maps "blind to race."

"I have followed the law, I have drawn blind to race, I believe the maps I’ve drawn are compliant under the Voting Rights Act," she said.

But witnesses who appeared before lawmakers in committee hearings said legislators should consider race to make sure they were not discriminating against voters of color. Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court admonishing it for violating federal protections for voters of color.

Huffman's proposal also went after Senate District 10 in Tarrant County, a district where Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans have voted together for the last decade to elect Democrats to more political offices. Under the proposed map, the new District 10, which currently sits entirely in Tarrant County, would stretch to seven additional counties to the south and west that are more rural and have higher white populations. Democrats argued that such a move would dilute the voting strength of voters of color in Tarrant County and would likely result in the seat flipping to a Republican in the next election.

That partisan makeup would give Republicans a 19-12 seat advantage over Democrats, one more than the current 18-13 split.

State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who lives in the newly proposed District 10, has already announced his campaign for the seat if it is approved by lawmakers. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican who presides over the Senate, has endorsed him.

"Do you think your district is being targeted?" state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, asked the district's Democratic incumbent, Beverly Powell.

"Absolutely," Powell responded.

Powell proposed two changes to amend the maps. One would revert her district to its current boundaries. The other would make changes to her district and others surrounding it, but would keep District 10 entirely in Tarrant County. Both amendments failed.

Huffman said her proposal was driven by attempts to equalize populations in each Senate district; keep cities, counties and other communities of interest together; maintain the cores of previous districts; avoid pairing incumbents into one district; achieve compact districts; and accommodate the political interests of incumbents.

Patrick praised Huffman's work.

"The Senate's map that passed today is fair and legal, and passed with bipartisan support. This map illustrates our commitment to making sure every Texan is well-represented in their state Legislature and their voices are heard. I want to thank Sen. Huffman for her leadership, and the 30 other senators for their hard work," he said.

The Senate also approved new maps for the State Board of Education, a 15-member body that is currently made up of nine Republicans and six Democrats. The proposed map tweaks the board's partisan breakdown. Seven of the districts went to Biden during the 2020 general election, but under the new proposal, Biden would have won only five of the districts. One district would be considered a toss-up seat.

The Senate and State Board of Education maps now go to the House, where they will have to be approved before Gov. Greg Abbott can sign them into law.

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