As the fight over Texas redistricting moves from the legislature to the courts, lawmakers and hopefuls are readjusting their political plans. Some Texas politicians discovered from one day to the next that they were drawn out of their current districts. In other districts, representation is yet to be determined.
Texas Tribune primary political correspondent Patrick Svitek says one reason for the changes is because Texas gained a new congressional district in Houston and another in Austin. The change in Austin has led longtime U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, to switch districts.
Up in the Panhandle, longtime State Sen. Kel Seliger (R-SD 31) has opted out of running for re election after a combination of redistricting and political drama connected with both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, redistricting lines in the Rio Grande Valley have led U.S. Rep. Vincente González (D-TX 15) to rethink which district he’ll run in.
Listen to the player above or read the transcript below for more on how redistricting is impacting different parts of Texas.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Let’s start with El Paso, Texas House Districts 77 and 79. One current representative was drawn out of her district and into another where she doesn’t want to compete. So what’s happening there?
Patrick Svitek: Yes, the El Paso area, due to population changes, lost a seat in the State House. That resulted in two incumbents there, Lena Ortega and Claudia Ordaz Perez [both Democrats], being paired together in the same district: HD-77, which is Ortega’s district, meaning that they both lived inside that newly redrawn district. Ortega has said that she’s running for reelection in that district, which is, at least by number, her current district. But something that we’ve learned in recent days is that instead of running against Ortega for that seat, given that they now live in that district together, Claudia Ordaz Perez is looking at running in a different El Paso district: House District 79, which is currently held by a fellow El Paso Democrat, Art Fierro. This is just an example of how in a region in Texas, redistricting can force some tough political choices on the incumbents who are trying to hold on to their seats.
Let’s move closer to the Panhandle in State Senate District 31, where longtime Sen. Kel Seliger says he now won’t seek reelection. Break that down for us.
Right, there’s an interesting redistricting angle on this, because in the weeks leading up to this decision by Seliger not to seek reelection, he was criticizing the redrawing of his district. His district currently stretches from the Panhandle, the Amarillo area, down to the Permian Basin area, the Midland area. But what the redrawing of the district did was it took a few of the counties out of the Panhandle, the district where he’s from, and added more counties down to the Midland area of the district, where one of his primary challengers, Kevin Sparks, is coincidentally from. In seeing that new map, Seliger believed something was afoot to make his reelection bid more difficult. I should note, Kel Seliger has been kind of the closest thing to a Republican independent in [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick’s Senate. He’s broken with the presiding officer of the Senate, Dan Patrick, on a number of his key priorities, including issues related to property taxes and school choice. That all kind of came to a head yesterday when Seliger announced his decision not to seek reelection. Also should note that former President Donald Trump had already endorsed Seliger’s primary challenger, Kevin Sparks. And we know that Trump is close with Dan Patrick, so there are a number of different angles there. But the redistricting angle is for sure — the redrawing of Seliger’s district into one where there’s a new geography at the Midland end of the district, where his primary challenger is from.
What’s going on in Austin? Let’s start with Texas House District 19.
Central Texas has really been ground zero for how redistricting has caused political dominoes to fall everywhere. A big reason for that is redistricting is done every decade to account for population changes in these districts. Plainly put, Central Texas is the fastest growing part of the state. Of the three fastest growing counties over the last decade in Texas, all three were in Central Texas. That’s the reason for all this political upheaval in Central Texas, and you do have this new State House District HD-19. It covers some of the Hill Country, some of northwest Austin. Right now, you’re seeing a primary battle there that takes shape between Ellen Troxclair and Justin Berry, who once were political allies. Troxlair earlier this year was running for the state Senate. Berry was running for the State House. He was waiting to see which seat, but he said he’s running for the State House. They teamed up. They endorsed one another, her for Berry in the House, he for Troxclair in the Senate. But due to a number of political dominoes that fell as a result of these new maps, they’ve now ended up having to run against each other in the Republican primary for this new House District 19.
Still in Austin, but moving to the U.S. House of Representatives, there’s already some movement for possible candidates in districts 35 and 37?
Yeah, one of the big questions about this storyline was answered on Monday when the longtime Democratic congressman from Austin Lloyd Doggett announced that he would seek reelection in that new Austin Congressional District, the 37th District, instead of running for reelection in his current district, the 35th District. That new district was one of two new districts that Texas got in Congress because of the large population growth over the last decade in the state. The other new district went to the Houston area. Doggett enters that primary for that new district as the heavy favorite. He has over $5 million saved up for any kind of race that he may have to run. He’s got a nine page endorsement list, and so he’s probably the heavy favorite in that race. But if you look at the race for his now open seat in the 35th District, that one could get pretty interesting. We already saw Greg Casar, the Austin city councilman, launch an exploratory committee for that seat, saying he’s likely to run. Other potential candidates for that seat are two state representatives — one from Austin, Eddie Rodriguez, another from San Antonio, Trey Martinez Fischer. It’s going to be a pretty fascinating primary. And because that 35th District stretches from Austin to San Antonio, it really gives San Antonio a new shot at representation in that district, because Doggett had held on to it for so long and he’s obviously an Austin guy. You talk to political observers and they say even though San Antonio didn’t get one of those new Congressional Districts in the reapportionment process, it’s almost like they are getting kind of a new shot of representation because that 35th District that stretches from all the way from Austin to San Antonio is suddenly open, with Doggett deciding to seek reelection elsewhere.
Finally, let’s move down to the border. One congressman was drawn out of his current district and into another. What’s the breakdown there?
Another fascinating development here has been the political future of [Democrat] Vicente González. He currently represents Texas’s 15th Congressional District, which is very skinny and long, but it’s anchored in the Rio Grande Valley. He was already shaping up to be a target of national Republicans in that district, because he had a surprisingly close reelection race last year after Joe Biden underperformed across South Texas and particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. But now, in the redrawing process, his current district, the 15th District, has been redrawn to be more competitive for Republicans, and that’s caused González to think about maybe switching districts in the redrawing process. The neighboring 34th District was made more safe for Democrats, and so he’s openly said that if the maps are final — and this was said a couple of weeks ago, the maps have since been finalized — that he would very seriously consider running for reelection instead in that neighboring 34th District. That is going to be much safer for Democrats to run in and hold onto in November. One of the last minute changes to the maps is that his residence was actually drawn into the 34th District, making it easier, at least politically, for him to be able to switch to that district. For members of Congress, you don’t have to live in the district that you’re running for or representing, but you get to avoid some easy political attacks if you end up living in the district. I would say his residence being drawn to that 34th District makes it even more likely that he’s going to run for reelection there instead of in his current 15th District.