I have a problem with this analysis by Nathan Gonzales, at least as it pertains to the three Texas districts included.
Even though a record number of Latinos are serving in the 113th Congress, Hispanic candidates are significantly underperforming in heavily Hispanic districts, particularly compared to other minority groups.
Nationwide, just 41 percent of congressional districts (24 of 58) with a Hispanic voting age population (VAP) of at least 30 percent are represented by a Hispanic member of Congress. In comparison, 72 percent of districts (32 of 44) with a black VAP of at least 30 percent are represented by a black member.
Why can’t Latinos get elected to Latino congressional districts?
In Texas’ 33rd, party leaders supported African-American state Rep. Marc Veasey over former state Rep. Domingo Garcia in a Dallas-area district that is 61 Hispanic and just 17 percent black. It helped that black voters outnumbered Latino voters in the primary, runoff, and general elections, according to analysis by the Lone Star Project. In Texas’ 34th, party leaders supported longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D), even though his newly-drawn district is 59 percent Hispanic.
Another challenge is turnout. As the race in Texas 33 showed, the Hispanic percentage of a district’s population can overstate the strength of the Latino electorate, because Latinos don’t vote in the same numbers as other minority groups. In some cases, savvy Latino candidates don’t even run because they know the opportunity isn’t as good as it looks on paper.
But even when Hispanics dominate a district, sometimes it isn’t enough to secure a Latino victory. Nine districts with over 50 percent Latino VAP are represented by non-Latinos. Just two districts with a black VAP of at least 50 percent are represented by non-black Members.
For example, Texas’ 16th District is now represented by Beto O’Rourke after he defeated longtime Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary last year, even though the seat is 78 Hispanic.
Until Latino voters get more organized and start voting with more frequency, simply citing the population figures of a district can lead to misleading analysis.
Yes it can, and that leads to a second problem I have with this article, but first things first. The problem that I said I have with this is that nowhere does Gonzales take the individual candidates into account when discussing the outcomes in Texas. I’ve discussed two of these races before, so I’m going to quote myself. Here’s what I said about Rep. Doggett’s victory, which by the way was in CD35, not CD34.
The main reason for [Sylvia] Romo’s defeat is that she was up against a very strong opponent. It wasn’t just that Rep. Doggett had name ID and a ton of money, it was also that he had a long record of doing things that Democratic voters tend to like. Though he had to move to run in CD35, he was generally perceived – or at least generally portrayed – as the incumbent, and the first rule of beating an incumbent is that there has to be a good reason to fire that incumbent. Doggett’s voting record has no obvious black marks on it – none that Romo articulated, anyway – and there were no issues of personal behavior to exploit. Having interviewed Romo, I agree that she’s a perfectly well qualified candidate and I think she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress, but I don’t think she ever adequately answered the question why voters should choose to replace a perfectly fine sitting Congressperson with seniority, a good record, and a history of making Republicans mad enough to try twice to kill him off via redistricting.
Doggett faced the same challenge in 2004 when Republicans drew him into a district that contained large swaths of South Texas. As was the case last year, he faced off against an established Latina elected official from the new district turf, and he won easily. You’re not going to beat Lloyd Doggett without a good reason to beat Lloyd Doggett.
And here is what I said about O’Rourke versus Reyes in CD16:
I’m pretty sure none of the people involved in redistricting, including the litigants, foresaw [the possibility of Reyes losing to O’Rourke] though at least one blogger did. But Rep. Reyes didn’t lose because the new map made CD16 more hostile to Latinos and more amenable to Anglos. Rep. Reyes had some baggage, O’Rourke ran a strong campaign, and he had some help from a third party. These things happen. Perhaps from here O’Rourke does a good job and becomes an entrenched incumbent, or he sees his star rise and takes a crack at statewide office in a few years, or he himself gets challenged by an ambitious pol in 2014, presumably a Latino, and loses. Point being, Latino voters made the choice here, and they will continue to be able to do so.
I think Rep. Reyes’ baggage was a big factor here, but you have to give credit to Rep. O’Rourke for running a strong race and giving the voters a reason to fire the incumbent and install him instead. I won’t be surprised if Rep. O’Rourke is challenged by a Latino in the 2014 primary, just as Rep. Gene Green was challenged in 1994 and 1996 in the heavily Latino CD29 after winning it in 1992. CD16 is still a district drawn for a Latino, after all. If Rep. O’Rourke does a good job he might be able to have a career like Rep. Green, who hasn’t faced a primary challenge since 1996. If not, he’ll be one and done if a better Latino candidate comes around to run against him.
As for CD33, it’s a similar story to CD16. Rep. Marc Veasey was a compelling candidate whose time in the Texas Legislature was marked by strong advocacy for progressive causes. Former State Rep. Domingo Garcia had a decent record in the Lege when he was there, but it had been awhile and he had his share of baggage as well. He had a reputation for divisiveness and was far from universally beloved among Latino politicos – just look at the large number of Latino State Reps that endorsed Veasey. If African-American turnout in the primary runoff was higher than Latino turnout despite the numerical advantage for Latinos, that didn’t happen by magic.
The other problem I had with Gonzales’ article comes from this paragraph:
Five out of six congressional districts that have both Hispanic and black populations of at least 30 percent each are represented by black Members, including Florida’s 24th and Texas’ 9th, 18th, and 30th districts.
The fallacy of that statement, which Gonzales himself alludes to in his concluding statement, which I quoted above, can be summed up by this document. Here are the Citizen Voting Age Populations (CVAPs) for the three Texas districts, estimated from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey:
CD09 – 50.6% African-American, 19.5% white, 19.2% Hispanic
CD18 – 49.2% African-American, 25.0% white, 20.7% Hispanic
CD30 – 53.5% African-American, 25.5% white, 18.1% Hispanic
You tell me what kind of person you’d expect to win in these districts. Total population is far less relevant than CVAP is. Gonzales knows this, and he should have known better. Via NewsTaco.