Left-Leaning Redistricting Expert Says Texas’ Proposed Maps ‘Ruthlessly’ Gerrymander Communities Of Color

“Not only did the state not create any new opportunities for the people who provided 95% of the state’s population gain last decade, they actually go backwards in many places, and that is brazen and almost breathtaking.”

By Kristen CabreraOctober 1, 2021 2:03 pm

Results from the 2020 census showed the majority of population growth in Texas over the last decade was among people of color. But new proposed political maps drawn by Republican members of the Texas Legislature do not acurately reflect that growth.

Michael Li, senior counsel for the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, says the new maps dilute the political power of urban areas and suburbs, where the number of Texans of color is greater, by dividing them up and joining them with more rural, conservative-leaning districts.

Listen to the interview with Li above or read the transcript below to learn more about why he argues areas of Texas have been “ruthlessly” gerrymandered to achieve conservatives’ political goals.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: You have studied each of these new maps in detail; you testified yesterday in front of the Texas Senate about them. What’s the main takeaway that Texans need to be aware of?

Michael Li: One is that Republicans who drew these maps seem very afraid of the suburbs and the cities, in particular. They ended up drawing a bunch of urban-suburban-rural districts to kind of dilute the power of the suburbs. And then, I think that’s, in part, because the suburbs are becoming, themselves, much more diverse [and] also, there are white voters in the suburbs who have moved against Republicans in recent years. And what these maps tell me is that they’re not sure that they’re going to get them back in sufficient numbers that they can just keep the districts more or less as they are today. The other, really, is how ruthlessly communities of color, both in the urban areas and in the suburbs are split apart in order to to engineer these these gerrymanders.

Can you tell me a little bit more about why you choose the word “ruthlessly”?

I’ll give you an example: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Congressional District 33 right now is about 48% Latino by citizen-voting-age population of all races. It’s about to become a Latino-majority district, and a large chunk of Latinos in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, are pulled out of the district and put into District 6, which is a rural, Anglo-majority district that spans seven rural counties south of Dallas. And there is just absolutely no reason for that, right? Tthe people in, the Latinos in Irving, Texas, have nothing in common with these rural voters. There’s no reason to do it other than to try to gerrymander. And things like that occur throughout the state. Fort Bend County is another area where poor communities of color are basically cut out of Fort Bend County and are divided.

People of color accounted for 95% of the population growth in Texas over the last decade. But when you look at these new maps for the Texas House and Senate, the number of districts in which white voters are the majority is set to increase. Can you tell us more about the mechanics behind how that happened?

Right now, there are a bunch of pretty compact districts in the urban and suburban areas, and those are redrawn pretty aggressively to divide up communities of color in order to engineer a Republican advantage. And the reality is whether Republicans will defend these maps on the basis that they’re partisan gerrymanders, not racially discriminatory. But the reality is that you can’t, in a state as diverse as Texas, draw maps that give one party an advantage – whether that’s Democrats or Republicans – without really discriminating against communities of color.

This map passively discriminates against communities of color by dividing them up and taking opportunities off the table, right? Not only did the state not create any new opportunities for the people who provided 95% of the state’s population gain last decade; they actually go backwards in many places, and that is brazen and almost breathtaking.

Are these the kinds of practices common in other states? How does Texas compare?

In Texas, there is a special racial angle to this, and that is true not only in Texas, but generally in the states of the South. Because if you’re a Republican trying to discriminate against Democrats, Democrats are disproportionately people of color. Now, there are states in the country where it is possible to discriminate against Democrats or discriminate against Republicans without having a racial dimension. For example, in Ohio, there still are a lot of white Democrats or Wisconsin. Likewise, in New York, where people expect Democrats to do a gerrymander, a lot of those will target white voters in the upstate parts of the state. But Texas is unique in the sense that there is a very strong racial dimension to this, particularly given how much of the growth was powered by communities of color.

Previous years’ district maps have been challenged in court. Do you think that’s where we’re headed now?

For five decades now, Texas has always ended up in court over its maps, and I would fully expect that that would be the case this decade, especially given the failure to, for example, create a Latino opportunity district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There are now, more Latinos in the Dallas-Fort Worth area than in all of Colorado, and yet there are no Latino state Senate districts or no Latino congressional districts, really, north of Austin. And I fully expect there to be challenges not only in North Texas, but really across much of the state. The wild card in all of this that could change the dynamics yet is if Congress passes some form of federal voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote Act or the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. But that would require the Senate to figure out something on the filibuster. There’s a lot of pressure to pass those bills. We’ll see if that happens.

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