“Unwinnable race”: State Sen. Beverly Powell of Burleson ends reelection bid, citing redrawn political map

State Sen. Beverly Powell was elected to the Fort Worth-based Senate District 10 in 2018. (Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune, Sophie Park/The Texas Tribune)

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State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, ended her reelection campaign Wednesday morning, citing an "unwinnable race" in a district that Republican lawmakers had redrawn to make a Democratic win impossible.

"Under the new map that will remain intact through November, the results of the 2022 election are predetermined," she said in a video message published Wednesday morning. "Election prospects for any candidate who relies on a diverse voter coalition will be thwarted. So after a great deal of thought, prayer and consultation with family, friends and supporters, I have decided to withdraw my name from the ballot.

"I cannot in good faith ask my dedicated supporters to spend time and contribute precious resources on an unwinnable race," she said. "That time and those resources are better spent on efforts that will advance our causes and on the continuing efforts to restore voting rights."

In withdrawing her nomination, Powell all but gives the election to Republican nominee state Rep. Phil King of Weatherford. Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the secretary of state's office, said on Twitter that the Texas Democratic Party can only replace its nominee if Powell is withdrawing due to a catastrophic illness, no other party has a nominee, or she's appointed or elected to another office.

Powell was elected to the Fort Worth-based Senate District 10 in 2018 by ousting former Sen. Konni Burton, a conservative firebrand. The district, which was entirely contained in Tarrant County, has for decades increased its Black, Latino and Asian American populations. A coalition of those groups and white voters gave Powell her victory.

Powell was up for reelection in 2022, but last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the boundaries of her district. The new map now splits up the Latino, Black and Asian American populations that previously voted together in the district. The new district stretches out to seven counties to the west and south that make Senate District 10's population more rural and more white, giving Republicans a clear political advantage. The voting age populations of Latinos, Blacks and Asian Americans were all decreased in the district while the white voting age population increased by nearly 10%. The redrawn district would have voted for Donald Trump by 16 points. It previously leaned for Joe Biden by 8 points.

Powell joined civil rights and voting rights groups in decrying the changes and calling them clear violations of the Voting Rights Act, which asks lawmakers to consider the impact on racial minorities before approving changes to voting laws. Republicans had tried to similarly redraw the district in 2010 but had been stopped by a federal court, which called the move intentionally discriminatory against voters of color.

But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states like Texas, with a history of discrimination against voters of color, to receive approval from the federal government before making changes to voting laws.

Powell and a group of the district's voters and civil rights organizations sued the state in federal court to block the map's implementation for the March primary. But a three-judge panel in El Paso denied their request to block the map's use in the primary, keeping it in place until later in the year when the panel will hold hearings on challenges to the state's political maps for the Texas House, Senate, Board of Education and congressional seats.

Since the passage 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.

In her message, Powell said the newly drawn map will be in effect "for at least the November general election."

Powell said she will continue to serve through the end of her term in January and will look for other opportunities to serve the public.

"Serving as your Texas state senator has been the honor of my lifetime," she said. "Thank you for entrusting me with this sacred privilege."

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Correction, April 7, 2022: A previous version of this story misstated where state Sen. Beverly Powell lives. She is from Burleson, not Fort Worth.