Texas House confirms redistricting maps

In a technical move designed to avoid a constitutional violation, the Texas House confirmed the redistricting maps passed during the third special session of the 87th Legislature.

On Wednesday, members approved House Bill (HB) 1000 by Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) on second reading by a vote of 85 to 64. The next stage for the bill is referral to a committee in the Texas Senate.

The Texas Constitution arguably requires redistricting maps to be passed during a regular session of the Legislature rather than a special session. Redistricting could not be completed during the regular session in 2021 because the federal government delayed the publication of U.S. census data during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) proposed two amendments to reconfigure several legislative districts to create “majority-minority” districts. Davis said her first amendment would have redrawn the districts of Reps. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant), and Jay Dean (R-Longview) to make Dean’s district composed mostly of racial minority voters from Smith and Gregg counties.

The second amendment would have redrawn two districts in Bell County to create a similar district in the western part of the county.

“This is an opportunity again for us as a state to recognize the growth and development of this state,” Davis said.

The Bell County districts are currently drawn so that one is entirely surrounded by the other; Davis’ proposal would have moved one of the districts to an edge of the county.

During questioning from the back microphone, Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) accused Republicans of “diluting the voting strength of the African American population.” Davis agreed with his characterization of the 2021 redistricting maps as an “intentional violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Reynolds said the current Bell County districts have an “unconventional doughnut hole configuration” designed to avoid drawing a district conducive to racial minority representation.

Davis foreshadowed the failure of her amendments, saying she wanted to give members the chance to rectify a “missed opportunity” to increase African American representation.

“I want you to leave knowing you had the opportunity to do right and you did wrong,” Davis said.

Both amendments failed in party-line votes of 64 to 85, with Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) the only abstention. As the chamber’s leader, Phelan usually abstains from floor votes.

In 2021, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) asserted she did not even look at racial data when composing the district maps. However, she did examine political data and election results.

One thing House Republicans did not address is the potential “County Line Rule” violation in South Texas. Under the current plan, Cameron County is represented by two districts: House Districts (HD) 35, 37, and 38. While HD 38 is enclosed entirely within Cameron County, HD 37 covers all of Willacy County to the north and the rest of Cameron and HD 35 contains a portion of Cameron County along with a portion of Hidalgo.

Lawsuits were filed by various Democratic or left-leaning defendants over the issue, but so far have all been unsuccessful.