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If it were good for Travis it would be good elsewhere as well

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.

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2 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    While Bickerstaff is correct that having a fraction of a district in an urban area requires an officeholder to pay some attention to businesses and voters from that area, as a general rule split groups of voters have less influence. Under the VRA, if Travis County were all African Americans, splitting them into 5 disticts would be unthinkable.

    Still, districts do not always perform as expected. The Clear Lake to Kingwood Houston city council district has regularly elected a Kingwood resident despite that sector of the district being about 1/4 or 1/3 of the total.

    In the 1990s round of redistricting litigation, a number of Democrat elected officials came into court and swore that spliiting their county or their city gave them access to greater, rather than lesser representation, and that they were pleased with the pro-Democrat gerrymander under challenge.

    Sometimes a split of an urban area CAN result in increased representation, if a county is large enough and the number of districts is right. San Antonio has long been overrepresented in Congress, because MALDEF and other advocates have structured districts which put the majority of each of 4 or 5 districts in Bexar County, and then adds lots of rural counties as filler. Districts have run from Bexar to El Paso, to Laredo, and to Midland.

    CD36 in the current, interim map is such a split. It provides a district where Harris County is the population anchor of a district which runs through rural counties to the Louisiana border at Orange, and is likely to elect a Harris County representative.

    But Travis County under the present map is not that case. I would be surprised even if Doggett holds on, and if Democrats ran a high profile Harris County based candidate, they might present a threat to McCaul in CD10.

  2. Ross says:

    I don’t see where county lines are particularly relevant to any districts, other than County Commissioner. in fact, I can see where the voter in North Travis County might have more in common with his neighbor on the other side of the the Williamson County line than with the Travis County resident on the Hays County line. It’s probably more reasonable to assess the districts by ethnicity and socioeconomic factors than arbitrary lines drawn in the 19th Century.

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