This article asks if Travis County is better off being split into five different Congressional districts. Seems to me that’s a question that answers itself, but I’ll play along.
The voters and geography of Travis County are split among five congressional districts in the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature and now adopted in the federal court’s interim plan. Travis County residents do not constitute a majority of the voters in any of these districts.
Some politicians and political consultants spin this result as possibly either depriving Travis County of any effective voice in Congress or enhancing that voice by allowing the county’s voters to have a say on the election of more members of Congress.
Whether the interests of a political group or jurisdiction are better served by being an overwhelming majority in a few districts, or a less important part of many more districts, is one of the oldest disputes in redistricting. There is no answer that is correct for all circumstances.
This splitting of Travis County among five congressional districts in 2011 was clearly intended to dilute, not enhance, the effect of the county’s voters (especially Democrats) and to target Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin for defeat. These objectives are not surprising for a Republican-controlled Legislature, because Travis County is the only major Texas county in which a majority of non-Hispanic white people continue to vote consistently for Democratic candidates, and Doggett is seen by many Republican lawmakers as a partisan troublemaker.
By contrast, the Legislature kept intact heavily Republican counties, such as Collin, Denton and Fort Bend. Each is less populated than Travis County, but each in the new plan has a congressional district wholly in the county or has an overwhelming majority of voters in a congressional district.
However, redistricting voters is always a net-sum game. By attempting to dilute Travis County voters by dividing them among many districts, the Texas Legislature also may have ultimately increased the number of districts in which candidates from Travis County (including Democrats) can be successful if propelled by unexpected political winds.
The voters of Travis County cannot necessarily elect the person of their choice in any new congressional district, but there is not another population center outside Travis County that clearly dominates most of the districts.
For example, Travis County residents’ share of Congressional District 21 increased to more than 27 percent in the new redistricting plan, while Bexar County residents’ share fell from 53 percent to 36 percent. Travis County residents’ share of District 10 (35 percent) is now slightly less than before, but the other population center, Harris County, has seen a much greater reduction, from 46 percent to 35.
In other words, the new plan favors U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin by keeping many Harris County Republicans in District 10 while also reducing the possibility that he will face a strong opponent from Harris County. But this change also makes District 10 more winnable by a Travis County Democrat.
Seems pretty clear to me that if being sliced and diced like a Sunday ham were beneficial, the Lege would have done it to the Republican strongholds as well – Denton, Collin, Williamson, and Montgomery. But no – Montgomery is entirely within CD08 and Williamson in CD31, while nearly all of Denton is in CD26. Collin has three districts in it, but that includes all of CD03. In each case, you can be sure that the representative from those districts is from that county. If Travis County is lucky, CDs 10 and 35 will be from there, but those two districts combine for only 45% of the county’s population; if Rep. Lloyd Doggett loses, only 24% of Travis County will be represented by someone from there. Which would you prefer? Note that if Rep. Mike McCaul steps down, it could just as easily be the case that not a single member of Congress from these five districts is from Travis. Like I said, the question pretty much answers itself.