Two members of the Texas congressional delegation spoke out Monday against changes that break up their Houston area districts and specifically impact Black communities. Republicans in the Texas Legislature seem committed to pushing forward new U.S. House and State Senate district maps as proposed or with only slight changes. That’s the perspective of Mark Jones, a professor at the Rice University Baker Institute for Public Policy.
The Senate Redistricting Committee passed the Congressional map on Monday, moving it to the entire Senate for approval. The entire Senate approved the State Senate map, it goes to the House of Representatives for review. The Congressional map moved forward despite the appearance of two members of Congress from Texas at the Capitol. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green protested how the changes affect their current districts.
Listen to the interview in the player above or read the transcript below for more from Jones about why two members of Congress spoke out against the maps and what other sticking points are bothering those seeking changes.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Yesterday, at a hearing of the Senate Redistricting Committee, state lawmakers heard testimony from two Texas members of Congress members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Tell us who they were and why they made this rare appearance at the State House.
Mark Jones: They were two African-American representatives from the Houston area, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green. They were upset with how the maps have been drawn in Houston, where their districts – the two African-American majority districts, or at least plurality districts – in the Harris County area were mixed up together and symbolically quite negatively. They were paired in the same district, which is symbolically a real misstep by Senator Jaan Huffman when she drew these maps.
When you say symbolically, what do you mean?
They break them up. I mean, the symbolic aspect is that you should never have a member of Congress be drawn out of their district if you can avoid it. And that was just a lack of care. Now, while they did draw out some areas, it is important to note that they gave them to Sylvia Garcia, who is the one Latino representative from the Houston area.
Although I can see why Congressman Green and Congresswoman Jackson Lee really are upset because their districts were shuffled up more than they have been in the past, and areas that they used to represent, they no longer represent. But especially for two of our only three African-American members of Congress can be especially upsetting because of the important role they play in representing African-Americans, not just here in the Houston area, but throughout the state.
Green testified that out of the 38 districts, the two congressional districts were dded to Texas because of population growth fueled by people of color. We have two African Americans potentially running against each other in the proposed map.
Both of their districts still did remain somewhat similar to where they were before, so Congresswoman Jackson Lee can simply run in her own district, and Congressman Green can run in his district with no real trouble. It’s just the symbolism of it that’s upsetting in the sense that it’s a lack of shows, a lack of respect for both members of Congress.
What did the Senate committee decide and what happens next?
The Senate decided to move the map forward. I think what we’re seeing from the Republicans in the state Legislature is they’re going to stick to their guns and either push through the maps and send them to Governor Abbott’s desk in the exact format they are now, or with some slight tweaks and then take their chance in the courts.
We’ve been talking about the U.S. House maps. There’s another for state Senate seats. What’s happening there?
The state Senate map is a little more clear cut because we didn’t increase the number of senators. We still have 31. What Republicans did there is they safeguarded the 18 current Republicans and then went after one Democrat, Beverly Powell, from up in the Tarrant County area, with the goal of potentially flipping that and going to 19 seats.
Lots of focus on Tarrant County with these maps. Could you explain some of the backstory there?
Tarrant County historically was one of the more Republican counties in the one major county that had stayed red. It’s been turning blue. And Republicans are in a rearguard effort to try to retain support in the State House and state Senate in Tarrant County. The way they’re trying to do it with Senator Powell’s district is by sending her district down to the south, and to the west and sort of the suburban counties that tend to be more Republican with the goal of diluting the growing Democratic population in Tarrant County.
Those state Senate maps are now headed to the House side for review? What role, if any, will the pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of redistricting during a special session?
That suit is going forward. It’s a very technically-based suit based on the fact that the Texas Constitution says that these maps will be drawn during the regular session. Given, the COVID-19 pandemic and the delay of census data, which arrived after the session that ended, the only real option that the Texas Legislature had was to do it in a special session. I don’t see that suit going anywhere, in part because the courts tend to lean Republican, but also because what else would you have expected the Legislature to do if they didn’t have the data during the regular session? They’re doing the next best thing in crafting the maps during a special session.