A bitter, behind-the-scenes fight has broken out among Texas Republicans over redistricting, pitting Rep. Lamar Smith against longtime colleague Rep. Joe Barton.
The dispute is over the makeup of four new congressional districts for the Lone Star State, and centers on the racial balance — including the controversial issue of “bleaching,” or including more white voters in a district — of the new political map for Texas.
Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the point man on redistricting for Texas Republicans, is pushing to evenly split four new districts between Republicans and Democrats, acknowledging that Texas’s surging Hispanic population will gain minority-majority seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. According to 2010 Census data, Texas is now home to 9.5 million Hispanics, 38 percent of the state’s overall population, yet only six members of the congressional delegation are Hispanic, including freshman GOP Reps. Francisco Canseco and Bill Flores.
Smith, described by fellow Republicans as being driven more by political pragmatism than by partisanship, has been quietly huddling with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) to work out a bipartisan compromise on the new districts.
And with concerns over the Voting Rights Act — which bars congressional districts from being drawn in a way that dilutes minority voting power — coming into play, Smith brought in an official from the Texas Supreme Court last week to tell GOP lawmakers that there is no way to craft solid GOP districts that would meet Justice Department or federal court approval. Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is one of 16 states that needs outside approval to implement new state and federal districts.
But Barton, who was passed over in January by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee’s gavel, has pushed to make three, or possibly all four, of the new districts Republican-favored, potentially shutting out Hispanic hopefuls from the new seats. Barton has harshly criticized Smith during Texas GOP delegation meetings, launching a profanity-laced tirade at Smith during one session early last month, and he’s privately tried to oust Smith as the lead Republican negotiator on redistricting.
Three points to make. One, it feels icky to side with Lamar Smith on just about anything, but at least I can say I’m opposing Joe Barton. Two, “acknowledging that Texas’s surging Hispanic population will gain minority-majority seats in the Dallas and Houston areas” is not quite the same as saying that these will be Democratic seats. As Greg has shown, any new “Houston-area” Congressional seat will be drawn from surrounding areas like Montgomery and Fort Bend counties. Putting Gene Green into a district in which Sylvia Garcia could successfully primary him would meet the goal of adding a Hispanic seat. Finally, if Barton gets his wish he may find it to be a Pyrrhic victory, in that several GOP Congressmen are currently in seats that are becoming more competitive every cycle, and could easily be washed out in a future good Democratic year. Among those incumbents who failed to crack 60% in 2008 despite facing weak competition: Joe Barton. If you’re a Republican and you’re thinking beyond the next election, Smith’s approach is much less risky. But hey, to each his own. Greg has more.