Analysis: Texas government won’t represent the state’s population unless its political maps do

Crowds march through Austin in celebration of Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20, 2020.

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In a state where more than 60% of the residents are people of color, the Texas Legislature is proposing maps where white people have voting majorities in 50% of the congressional districts.

That’s not representative.

Texas grew 15.9% over the last decade, according to the 2020 census. There are just about 4 million more people in the state now than there were 10 years ago, and 95% of that growth is attributable to people of color.

White people now account for 39.8% of the state population. Hispanic people are just about as numerous — 39.3% — and demographers expect that part of the population to be the largest part within a year or two. Black Texans, Asian Texans and others make up the remaining fifth of the population.

There is no majority, in other words, and the plurality is about to flip to Hispanics.

You wouldn’t be able to prove any of that by looking at the political maps the Texas Legislature is drawing right now.

A Senate committee has already approved (on a straight party-line vote) a new map that has 12 districts with white majorities and another four where the majority of the voting age population — adults — are white people. The Hispanic population is about the same size in the state, but not in the plans of the Texas Senate; the map has seven seats where Hispanic residents make up the majority.

Four more districts in that new Senate map have majorities of people of color if you add their Black residents and their Hispanic residents together.

The remaining four districts don’t have white majorities, Hispanic majorities or Hispanic-plus-Black majorities. They don’t look exactly like the state of Texas, but they’re more like the rest of the state than the other 27 districts.

The Senate map is just an example; all of the new maps revealed so far were designed with similar disparities between the makeup of the population and the cartographic and political machinations of the state’s officeholders.

It’s not just demography. The Texas Legislative Council — a state agency that draws maps, drafts bills and does other legal work for the Legislature, generates reports on how each district would have voted in the 2020 election.

That doesn’t look like Texas, either.

Overall, Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Joe Biden 52% to 45.5%. Trump would have won in 19 of the proposed Senate districts, or 61.3%. Biden would have won in 12, or 38.7%.

That’s not representative.

Sometime during the Legislature’s ongoing special session on redistricting, someone will compare the proposed maps to the current maps — either in a way that makes the new maps look more fair, or in a way that makes them look like a step backward. Remember, though, that the current maps were contested for many of the same reasons.

This time, 95% of the state’s growth was attributed to people of color. Ten years ago, the U.S. census attributed 89% of the state’s growth to people of color. Both times, the increase in Hispanic population in Texas was the main driver. Texas has been growing rapidly for a long time; the 2010 census revealed the population increased 20.6%; the 2020 census found 15.9%.

The Legislature that convened in 2011 had the same goals, more or less, that this year’s Legislature has: Draw new political districts that reflect the overall growth of the state and the geographic changes in the population. But they had the same biases, too. The Republican majorities wanted to preserve their hold on state government, which is, after all, what political majorities do. And they were more interested in communities and districts of Republicans than they were in communities of color.

They were focused, then as now, on winning, and not on that other word — the one that indicates every Texan is fairly accounted for and has the same political power.