Controversial redistricting maps combine U.S. Congressional districts of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green…but why them?
ABOVE: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson and Congressman Al Green
There is another major political storm brewing in Texas. This time, that storm involves Texas Republicans using a standard political process to stifle the minority growth in Texas by redrawing two Congressional districts currently held by two longtime African American congressional leaders in Harris County.
The Texas Senate has reconvened for a third Special Session in Austin to discuss Redistricting. Sadly, instead of ensuring people of color—who represent the largest population growth in the state—are reflected equitably in districts across the state, Texas Republicans have chosen to move forward with a proposed redistricting plan that diminishes traditional Black and Brown districts.
Redistricting happens every 10 years based on the census data that is received. Once that census date is compiled, a process of redrawing political boundaries to reflect the growth patterns and population shifts across the state begins, which is what we are seeing now.
How these boundaries are drawn are crucial and could make huge differences in election outcomes.
Following the recent 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau provided all 50 states with population counts to use in their redrawing of congressional and state legislative district boundaries to help with the Redistricting process. According to the 2020 census, 4 million people moved to Texas since the last census was done in 2010. That is a huge boon in growth over a ten-year period and the majority of that population grown consisted of people of color.
In the proposed redistricting plan, the 18th Congressional District and the 9th Congressional District are being redrawn to pit the current two congresspeople against each other.
The 18th Congressional District is currently represented by U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and the 9th Congressional District is currently represented by U.S. Congressman Al Green. Both seasoned African American leaders are seemingly targeted in this proposed redistricting plan, in that there was no need to combine the two districts together.
Both Congresswoman Jackson Lee and Congressman Green released a joint statement on what they believe are actions by the Texas State Senate to gerrymander their districts, stating:
“The extreme racial gerrymandering that the Senate is proposing makes it clear that they have no desire to follow the basic tenets of map drawing by ensuring our maps illustrate one person, one vote and do not discriminate. In this map, white voters are given all of the power. The plan submitted for the 9th and the 18th by this Texas Senate conspicuously undermines those constitutional premises of anti-discrimination. It denies our constituents their right to vote for a person of their choosing. In fact, it technically eliminates both of our districts, violating traditional redistricting principles by changing the core of our districts and dividing important communities of interest…This map takes aim at Black voters and seeks to minimize their voting strength. Though we don’t have a viable section 5 at this time, it is our firm belief that these actions are not only prohibited by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act but also Section 2 as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is further clear that this action shows us why we must pass legislation immediately to restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act so that anti-Black official actions cannot continue to run rampant around us. We will go to court, engage in direct action or take any and all available legal avenues to ensure that the people of the 9th and 18th are restored their full citizenship rights. We are saddened that the State Senate would choose to so conspicuously racialize the question of representation under the existing Voting Rights Act and under the United States Constitution. We will continue to stand against such dysfunction. Now we understand what SB7 was all about, denying the right to vote.”
This is a big deal, in that the proposed map significantly alters the local U.S. Congressional map by moving the historic Third Ward and MacGregor areas from the 18th Congressional District to the 9th Congressional District, which will also move the residence and main district offices of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee out of the 18th Congressional District where she has served for years. The 18th Congressional District seat was once held by Barbara Jordan, who became the first African American Texan to be elected to the U.S. Congress after Reconstruction in 1972.
No other members of the large Texas delegation have been so negatively impacted by this proposed map than Congresswoman Jackson Lee and Congressman Green.
According to political experts Carroll G. Robinson and Dr. Michael O. Adams, they state that there is no mathematical reason to do to the historic 18th District what Republicans are proposing.
“Essentially, the changes made to the 18th District under the map proposed by the Republican controlled Texas Senate were unnecessary except for the sole purpose of gerrymandering Harris County to create a new Republican District as opposed to having the new District in the county reflect and represent the new population growth,” said Robinson and Adams.
Both Robinson and Adams continued with their full analysis of the census numbers and how this situation should realistically play out, minus the politics, stating:
“The ideal size of a new Texas Congressional District, after the 2020 Census, is 766,987 people in each of the now 38 districts across our State. Harris County, with a population of 4,777,880 million people, is large enough to draw six (6) congressional districts wholly in the county without taking any of the district lines outside of the county. After all six (6) districts are drawn, there would be excess population remaining of 175, 958. As currently configured after the 2010 Census, the 18th Congressional District has a population of 797,908 people. That is 29,921 (3.90%) larger than the ideal district size. In Fort Bend County, its population of 858,902 people is large enough for the county to have its own member of Congress without being divided among multiple congressional districts and still have excess population of 92,915. Based on its new population count, Fort Bend County should also receive a third State House District drawn wholly in the county. If the State House seats in Fort Bend County are fairly drawn, the new third seat in the county would likely elect a Democrat.”
State Senator Borris Miles has been a vocal opponent of the redistricting plans, basing his objections on what he states are the following facts:
Both districts in their present configuration have afforded African American voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice for 50 years in the case of the 18th District and 30 years for the 9th District (being an African American opportunity district for nearly twenty years).
Both districts have more than sufficient populations to maintain existing boundaries. The
9th District is slightly over the 2020 mean (+3,811) for Texas and the 18th District is less than three percent (+29,921) over the average. Very minor adjustments can bring each to the required 766,987 population.
That being the case, the proposed Senate map unnecessarily removes more than 200.000 residents from these districts, while adding a slightly smaller number of new constituents with no history of being included in a protected district under the 1965 Voting Rights Act as amended in 1975.
- Both existing districts have strong economic engines providing expanding job opportunities for local residents. Notable among these are the Downtown Business District (DBD) and Bush International Airport in the 18th District and the Texas Medical Center in the 9th District.
- The proposed map moves the aforementioned Downtown Business District from the 18th District to an adjacent proposed district with fewer than 12 percent Black residents. Other important assets in the 18th District, such as the campuses of Texas Southern University and the University of Houston, are moved by C2101.
- We also note that for the first time since Barbara Jordan took the 18th District seat in January 1973, the iconic Fifth Ward and Third Ward constituencies have been placed in separate districts with no input from these communities.
- The changes to the 9th District remove some of the most diverse and fastest growing communities in Fort Bend County, communities with a proven record of supporting the candidates of choice of Black voters. The proposed plan would add a number of new precincts from the City of Pearland in Brazoria County – a community with a history of opposing candidates supported by Black voters.
- Congressional District 9 is currently almost the optimum size, being a little under 5,000 above the target number. Congressional District 18 is presently slightly above the optimum number for Congressional Districts by a little over 30,000. Last decade, after the State declined to include Congress members in the process, Courts overturned the drawing of both districts as they both were victims of unnecessary surgery. It is essential to keep the core of the districts together, including its economic engines and communities of interest.
- The redistricting map makes radical and unneeded changes to the two local congressional districts that include the majority of Black voters in Harris and Fort Band Counties. These changes have been made with no input from the sitting members, nor their constituent populations.
- The three Judge Panel that heard the Section 5 challenge to the proposed Congressional Plan adopted by the Texas Legislature in 2011 made it very clear that the 9th and 18th are both protected African American opportunity seats, and that they are protected from unnecessary surgery and surgery that takes out important economic engines from these districts as is being done in the current proposed plan. The paring of the two occupants of these districts seems and the unnecessary surgery done on their districts is clearly an act of racial discrimination.
State Representative Ron Reynolds expressed his outrage at the redistricting maps that have been proposed by the Texas Senate and has grave concerns about the partisan gerrymandering of the Republican leadership in Texas designed to dilute the power of minority voters.
“The 2020 Census data shows there have been key changes to Texas’ population over the last 10 years,” said Rep. Reynolds. “Texas is a majority minority state, with a total non-white population of 60.25%. Texas’ Hispanic population now stands at 39.26% nearly equal to the state’s non-Hispanic, white population at 39.75% — an increase of nearly 2 million Texans who identify as Hispanic in the last 10 years. Texas’ Black population increased by roughly half a million, now representing 11.82% of the state. Texas has the largest Black population of any state in the country. Texas’ Asian population now stands at 5.36% of the state’s population, growing by roughly 613,000 people since 2010. Federal courts have found that Texas Republicans have used redistricting to intentionally discriminate against Texans of color in the recent past. Given Texas’ tremendous minority population growth, redistricting should naturally result in additional districts in which Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters can elect their candidates of choice. Redistricting should be about ensuring the Legislature draws maps for the House, Senate, State Board of Education and Congress that fairly reflect Texas’ increase in diversity and growth in population. If Republicans propose maps that dilute the political power of minority Texans, we will not accept their arguments that such proposals are simply a result of partisanship. Maps that pack, crack or otherwise dilute minority communities will be called what they are—racially discriminatory.”
The proposed Congressional redistricting map is troubling for many and is being argued as unconstitutional and an attempt to dilute the voting strength of African Americans and other minorities in Harris County, Fort Bend County, and other counties across the state of Texas.
To pack and consolidate as many people of color into a minimal number of congressional districts across the state is wrong and should not be allowable, just because Texas Republicans have the votes and power to do so.
Because of the population growth by people of color over the last 10 years, it is only sensible that the two new Congressional seats in Texas should be reflective of the people who make up that population increase—African Americans and other minorities.
There is hope that the Texas Senate and Texas House will debate this issue to reverse their current course of proposed action by ensuring the 18th and 9th Congressional districts remain fairly untouched with the same representation, while also ensuring people of color have a fair and equitable shot at representation.