Texas Republicans Are Trying to Gerrymander Their Way Around Latinos

People of color generated 95 percent of Texas’ growth last decade—but Republicans want to gerrymander the map so it doesn’t have a single new Latino-majority district.
Cameron Joseph
Washington, US
A line of early voters wait outside the Gardner Betts Annex on March 6, 2018 in Austin, Texas.
A line of early voters wait outside the Gardner Betts Annex on March 6, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

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Texas’ population boom over the last decade, which gave the state two new U.S. House seats in the latest Census, was driven almost entirely by people of color. But on Monday, Republicans made clear they want to be the ones to benefit—at the expense of Latino voters.

Texas Senate Republicans released a proposed congressional map on Monday that would net their party two new House seats without creating a new Latino-majority district. That gerrymandered map will likely allow Republicans to win two-thirds of the state’s House seats in a state that’s almost evenly divided politically, shore up a number of GOP incumbents who’d faced recent tough races, and increase their chances of taking back the U.S. House next year rather than give Latino voters their share of political power in the state.

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Texas added 4 million people in the last decade, and 95 percent of that growth came from surges in Latino, Black, and Asian-American populations. Latinos (the Census uses the term Hispanics) were an especially fast-growing group in the state: There are 2 million more Latinos in the state than there were a decade ago, the equivalent of three House seats’ worth of population. Latinos now make up 39.3 percent of Texas’ population, just behind Anglos (Texans’ term for non-Hispanic whites), at 39.8 percent. But Republicans didn’t draw even one of Texas’ two new House seats to be Latino-majority.

Domingo Garcia, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, accused Republicans of “protecting incumbents by disenfranchising Hispanic voters” and promised that if this map is passed, his organization would sue to try to keep it from becoming law.

“The Texas Senate has totally disregarded the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and has engaged in a bizarre rigging and gerrymandering of district lines to disenfranchise Hispanic voters,” he told VICE News. “Logic and fairness and basic decency dictate that there would be two new Latino-opportunity districts.”

The proposed map packs in Democratic voters, many of them Latino, Black, and Asian, into as few districts as possible to shore up as many surrounding GOP seats as they could manage. Republicans plan to create 19 districts where Anglos are a majority of the voting-age population and just nine where Latinos are, even though the size of the two populations is almost identical in the state.

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Republicans didn’t draw a new Hispanic-majority district in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, even though there are roughly 1.7 million Hispanic people living in Dallas and Tarrant counties and there’s currently only one Latino-majority district in the area.

This is part of a long-standing trend: Republicans look to pack minority voters into as few districts as possible to “bleach” neighboring districts, making them whiter and safer for their party, or crack the population of minorities among multiple districts to weaken their voting power.

Republicans are likely to attempt this in many states where they have control over redistricting this decade in an attempt to shore up their power against fast-growing minority communities. Georgia’s population, for instance, has dipped from 60 percent white to 52 percent non-Hispanic white in the last decade. This, combined with leftward shifts from white suburban voters, helped Democrats overcome a GOP gerrymander to win two House seats in the past two elections. 

But Republicans want to reverse Democrats’ gains, and they released a preliminary draft map for Georgia on Monday evening that would turn Black Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath’s suburban Atlanta district from one Biden won by 11 points to one that Trump would have carried by six. This would likely give them nine of the state’s 14 House districts after the next election in a state that Biden just won.

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Still, Texas is by far the biggest gerrymandering prize for the GOP.

The new map there creates 25 districts that Trump would have carried in 2020, up from 22 in the current map. Joe Biden would have won 13, down one from the 14 he carried. That means that in a state where Trump beat Biden by just six percentage points last year, Republicans are hoping to hold 25 of the state’s 38 House seats after the 2022 midterm elections.

The map was proposed by Texas Senate Republicans with the support of the Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation, who sources tell VICE News worked closely with them to craft a map to their liking. While the map may get tweaked as it works its way through the Texas Legislature, it’s unlikely to change much, barring the inevitable legal challenges from civil rights groups and Democrats.

Republicans admit this is a clear partisan gerrymander meant to help their own self-interest. And in all fairness, Democrats do this too: Illinois and New York Democrats are gearing up for their own even more aggressive gerrymanders, and Oregon Democrats signed into law their own map that would likely give them five of the state’s six House seats. But because race and political affiliation are so closely linked, especially in the South, when Republicans gerrymander in diverse states, that almost guarantees that they’ll be screwing Black and Latino voters.

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That’s the case in Texas: Whether Republicans are trying to be racist or not, achieving their political self-interest means manipulating the lines so as to minimize the political power of voters of color.

“It was all about protecting those incumbents,” one Texas Republican strategist told VICE News. “Because we have political parties that are so tied to race, it’s almost inevitable. If you were totally colorblind about this and you wanted Republicans or Democrats [in a district], it’d be the same thing.”

In their proposal, Republicans achieve this gerrymander by turning the districts of Democratic Reps. Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher from swing districts into heavily Democratic ones, and creating a new heavily Democratic district in Austin while adding a Republican-leaning one in the Houston area. They also took aim at Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s South Texas district, turning it from one Trump lost by two points to one he would have won by three points while keeping its population more than four-fifths Hispanic.

Ironically, Gonzalez’s district is only competitive because Trump did so much better with culturally conservative Latinos in South Texas last election than Republicans have done in the past. Trump lost the current district by 17 points in 2016 but only by three in 2020. That proves that Republicans can compete for Latino votes. The rest of the new map shows, however, that they simply don’t want to have to compete with Latinos more than is absolutely necessary.

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The goal is simply to shore up Republicans’ current stranglehold on the Texas House delegation, boost GOP chances of retaking the House in 2022, and minimize the risk for Republican incumbents to have to face competitive races in future years. There are currently 12 truly competitive House seats in Texas where Trump and Biden finished within five percentage points of each other; if Republicans have their way, Gonzalez’s district will be the only one that remains that competitive in future years.

Most important for Republicans politically, the new map helps protect them against surging suburban growth that’s forced many of them to run hard-fought races in recent years in districts that were once safe for the GOP. The new lines basically act as a buffer against fast-growing suburbs where college-educated white voters have swung hard against them and in tandem with fast-growing Hispanic and Asian-American populations have made the districts surprisingly competitive.

The map turns freshman Republican Rep. Beth Van Duyne’s seat from one that Biden carried by five points into one that Trump won by 12. Eight other Texas House Republicans currently hold seats that Trump won by five points or less and are trending hard to Democrats; all eight would now have seats that Trump would have won by double digits. 

The story is the same across the map: Many of these Republicans are protected politically at least in part because their districts become whiter.

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Van Duyne’s district, for instance, would go from 48 percent Anglo to 62 percent Anglo, while dropping from 24 percent Latino to just 18 percent Latino, from 13 percent to 9 percent Black, and from 16 percent to 10 percent Asian American. Her district gets much whiter—and consequently, much safer politically. Republican Rep. Michael McCaul’s district drops from 31 percent to 23 percent Latino while moving from a district Trump won by less than three points to one he’d carry by 20, for instance; Republican Rep. Tony Gonzalez’s district would drop from 70 percent to 62 percent Latino, and shift from a district Trump won by just two percentage points to one he would have carried by seven.

The map also rewards the state’s slowest-growing communities for the growth achieved in its urban areas. While Greater Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio powered much of the state’s growth in the past decade, especially in their suburbs, this map would create more exurban and rural districts that take in just enough suburban voters to get to the right population numbers without actually giving them political power.

Civil rights groups are already preparing for a court fight. But their chances aren’t as good as they have been in past decades when they successfully challenged both Democratic and Republican gerrymanders. The Supreme Court is even further to the right than it was when it declared a few years ago that partisan gerrymandering is completely legal and partly gutted the Voting Rights Act. And while racially discriminatory gerrymandering is still against the law under the Voting Rights Act the court’s conservative majority recently dealt another body blow to the law and signaled that it’s not going to be very receptive to arguments about racial gerrymanders.

Democrats aren’t surprised by the map—but they’re furious at Republicans.

“It affirms what we’ve always known: that they’re racist, they care little about the contributions Hispanics bring to the state of Texas, they’re all about winning and they don’t really care what’s fair to the largest ethnic group in the state,”  Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told VICE News.