Texas House of Representatives

Empty chamber of the Texas House of Representatives at the state Capitol.

State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, will keep Johnson County but switch Bosque County out for Somervell County under the recently released proposed redistricting maps.

Texas House members on Thursday released the first proposal for a new map redrawing the chamber’s 150-member districts. The initial draft would both increase Republicans’ strength across the state.

Burns on Friday said the maps are only proposals as of now.

“I saw the proposed map yesterday but nothing is final until it passes the [Texas] House and Senate,” Burns said. “The new proposal would add Somervell County to Johnson County in District 58 where I serve. Bosque County would move from District 58 to join District 13.

“First, I love serving Bosque County and Johnson County. The relationships I’ve built over the last few years are genuine and very important to me. Many of the people I’ve worked with and had the honor to serve are like family to me today,” Burns said. “That being said, my commitment is to serve where I’m called. Whether my constituency resides in Johnson County, Bosque County or Somervell County, I remain dedicated to do my very best for Texas and the communities that depend on me.”

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin’s, Congressional District 25 is also rumored to be changing although it is believed that he will retain Johnson County. Officials at Williams’ Washington, D.C., office said that redistricting is a state function and had no information or comment on the matter. 

Burns, when asked on Friday, said he has not yet seen proposed maps for U.S. Congressional districts.

The district of State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, is also rumored to be changing and may no longer include Johnson County. Representatives from Birdwell’s office could not be reached for comment.

House Bill 1, authored by Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter, the GOP chair of the House Redistricting Committee, is just the first draft, and it will likely change as it makes its way through the legislative process before it’s signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Texas Legislature is in the midst of its third special session. This one is dedicated to redrawing political maps based on the latest census data that showed people of color fueled 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past decade. The percent of Hispanics is now nearly equal to white people in Texas.

But, the new map creates fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters. Black and Hispanic Texans make up two racial groups that along with Asian Texans outpaced the growth of white residents in the state over the last decade.

Currently 83 of the chamber’s 150 districts are areas in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters; 33 are districts where Hispanic voters make up the majority, while Black residents are the majority of eligible voters in seven districts.

Under the new proposal, the map adds six more districts where white residents make up the majority of eligible voters while the number of Hispanic and Black districts would each drop by three.

The proposed map would also change the partisan breakdown among the 150 districts, tilting the scale toward Republicans.

Currently, there are 76 districts that went to former President Donald Trump during the 2020 general election while 74 went to President Joe Biden. Among those, 50 districts voted 60% or more for Trump, — indicating the district is safely Republican — while 40 districts had more than 60% support for Biden — indicating strong Democratic support. Under the proposed new map, 86 districts would have gone for Trump, while 64 would have went for Biden. The number of districts that voted 60% or more for Trump or Biden would be tied at 46.

The House draft would also pit several incumbents against one another, including two El Paso Democrats — state Reps. Evelina “Lina” Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez — who would have to vie for the new House District 77.

In statements soon after the initial draft was released, both lawmakers criticized the proposal for pitting two Hispanic incumbents against the other.

Ortega, who referred to the proposal as “a direct attack on our border community,” said she was “committed to working for our community to stop this injustice from occurring.” Ordaz Perez said she would “refuse to sell out my values or those of the people I represent for political gain,” adding that she intends to return to the lower chamber for another term “to fight for the people of El Paso.”

At the same time, several House Republicans whose districts Biden carried last year received redder districts under the proposed map — but probably not red enough to avert another competitive contest next year. For example, in suburban Dallas, Biden had a 9-point margin victory in the district of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, though the map proposal shifts only to a district that Trump carried by 2 points.

Only two seats flipped last year in the lower chamber — both in the Houston area — and the proposed map makes each more friendly for the incumbent rather than more competitive. The seat of State Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, would become redder, while the seat of state Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, would become bluer.

This is the first time in decades federal law allows Texas to draw and use political maps without first getting federal approval to ensure that they’re not violating the rights people of color. That federal preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

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.

Information in this article came from the Texas Tribune.

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