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First Texas U.S. House map redraw reduces number of majority-minority districts

GOP’s initial redistricting proposal also reduces number of competitive districts

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TexasAUSTIN (CFP) — Texas is getting two new seats in the U.S. House because of the state’s explosive population growth, most of which was because of increasing numbers of black, Hispanic and Asian residents over the last decade.

But the first legislative plan to redraw the state’s congressional maps, released September 27, actually reduces the number of majority-minority districts, drawing immediate howls of protest from advocacy groups and promises of protracted litigation.

Screen Shot 2021-09-27 at 4.49.06 PM

First new Texas U.S. House map proposed by GOP (From Texas Legislative Council)

The first draw of the state’s map — proposed by State Senator Joan Huffman of Houston, who heads the Senate’s redistricting committee – is the starting point of the fight over new maps, taking place in a special session that began September 20.

And while those maps are likely to change as legislative continues, the plan reflects the thinking of Republican leaders — who have total control over the reapportionment process.

Overall, the map would make life much easier for House incumbents of both parties by vastly reducing the number of competitive districts statewide.

To accomplish this, Republicans mapmakers have shifted lines to make GOP-held marginal districts more Republican friendly; as a result, however, safer Democratic seats have also been created.

The two new seats are split between the parties, with creation of a new Democratic district in liberal-leaning Austin. Overall, under this map, Republicans are likely to control 25 of 38 seats, a net gain of two seats, and have a chance at a 26th seat in South Texas, which saw a shift to the GOP in 2020.

Here is a look at some of the highlights of the new map:

  • Texas is getting two additional seats because of the state’s population growth, raising the total number of seats from 36 to 38. The new map puts one of those seats in the Austin area, which will be Democratic, and another in the Houston suburbs, which will be Republican.
  • In 2020, Donald Trump carried 22 districts and Joe Biden 14; the new map has 25 districts that Trump would have won and 13 that would have gone for Biden.
  • In 2018 and 2020, there were as many as 10 districts in the Lone Star State that were somewhat competitive between the two parties. The new map makes these marginal GOP-held seats more Republican, with just one district where the margin between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2020 was less than five points. (The swing district, CD 15, is in South Texas and currently held by Democrat Vicente Gonzalez.)
  • The current map includes 22 districts where a majority of voters are white; the new map has 23. The number of majority Hispanic districts falls from eight to seven, and the state’s lone majority black district is eliminated. However, the number of districts where no racial or ethnic group has a majority will rise from five to eight.
  • In 2018, Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred in Dallas and Lizzie Fletcher in Houston flipped long-held Republican seats, and they survived fierce GOP challenges in 2020. However, the new map makes both of their districts more Democratic by moving Republicans to adjacent districts to help GOP incumbents, which will leave Allred and Fletcher in safe seats.
  • The new map puts Democrat Sylvia Garcia in the same district with Republican Dan Crenshaw in Houston and Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green in the same district, also in Houston. However, House members aren’t required to run in the districts where they live, so all four would be able to shift to safe districts where they won’t have to run against each other.
  • Texas is covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires mapmakers to optimize electoral opportunities for minority voters, which means the reduction in majority minority districts in this map will almost certainly trigger a legal challenge if it survives the legislative process. However, because of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the state no longer has to get Justice Department approval for its political maps, forcing advocacy groups to use the courts to stop implementation.

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Candidates for Virginia governor square off in first debate


Posted September 19 (From WUSA via YouTube)

Georgia businesswoman launches GOP primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Jennifer Strahan comes out swinging in 14th District race with broadside against “unserious” politicians

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Saying “this is not the time for unserious politicians who just want to hear themselves talk,” Georgia health care consultant Jennifer Strahan has launched a Republican primary campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose tumultuous tenure in Congress has trailed clouds of controversy.

strayhan

Congressional candidate Jennifer Strahan, R-Georgia

“I’m a no-nonsense conservative who believes our country and our culture have gotten off track,” Strahan said in her announcement video released September 15. “Like a lot of you, I’m tired of out-of-touch people in Washington putting what’s good for themselves ahead of what’s good for the country.”

Strahan’s entry in the race will sets up what is likely to be one of the most contentious GOP primary contests of the 2022 cycle, with the polarizing Greene a magnet for campaign cash from both her detractors and her admirers.

Four Democrats have also entered the race to unseat Greene but would be long shots in the overwhelmingly Republican 14th District, which takes in the state’s northwest corner.

Strahan, who lives at the southern edge of the district, holds a doctorate in health care leadership and runs a health care consulting company. This is her first bid for political office.

Watch Strahan’s announcement video at end of article.

Responding to Strahan’s entry into the race, Greene released a statement calling herself “the most effective member of the GOP conference this session because I’ve stood on the House floor and demanded roll call votes on the Democrats’ Communist agenda and the rest of the party has joined my efforts.”

Greene said she has led efforts “to Impeach Joe Biden, Fire Tony Fauci, Expel Maxine Waters, Eliminate The ATF, and Ban Vaccine Mandates” and that if Republicans want to regain control of the House in 2022, “we aren’t going to do it with pathetic empty campaign promises written by DC consultants.”

Greene was elected to the open seat in 2020 after parachuting into the 14th District, where she did not then live, after Republican incumbent Tom Graves retired. During the campaign, she had to explain her previous dalliance with the QAnon conspiracy theory and suggestions that the Parkland school shooting in Florida was a hoax.

Arriving in Washington with a take-no-prisoners style, she led objections to President Joe Biden’s Electoral College certification, advancing unsupported claims that Donald Trump actually won the election. The House Democratic majority voted to boot her from her committee assignments after she was accused of threatening Democratic members.

Greene has also been fined twice for refusing to wear a mask on the floor of the House and raised eyebrows by telling attendees at a political event in Alabama that people might shoot Biden’s “police state friends” trying to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. Twitter has suspended her repeatedly for posting vaccine disinformation.

She also repeatedly compared mask mandates to the Holocaust and even voted against giving the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who protected the Capitol during the January 6th attack by a pro-Trump mob.

But Greene has also spun all of that controversy into campaign gold, raising nearly $4.8 million for her re-election contest and giving her a head start over Strahan and her other challengers.

In addition to Strahan, Republican Mark Clay is also running in the 14th District, along with Democrats Lateefah Conner, Wendy Davis, Marcus Flowers and Holly McCormack.

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Genius or gimmick? Georgia GOP puts its Senate hopes on Herschel Walker

With Donald Trump’s blessing, untested Walker poised to claim U.S. Senate nomination. But is he too much of a risk?

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — Are Georgia Republicans ready to hand their U.S. Senate nomination to a man who has never run for political office, hasn’t lived in the Peach State for decades, and has a personal history that includes mental health struggles and an ex-wife with a restraining order?

Picture of Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, R-Georgia

With Donald Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement, Hall of Fame football hero Herschel Walker enters the race as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock next year.  But with control of the Senate on the line, nominating Walker is certainly not the safest path, given the questions he will face about his politics and his past.

Will a Walker candidacy end in strategic triumph or bitter regret? Trump clearly believes the former; Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly nervous about the latter.

“I’m a kid from a small town in Georgia who’s lived the American dream, and I’m ready to fight to keep that dream alive for you,” said Walker in a campaign kickoff video posted August 25, which contained footage of his Heisman-winning exploits at the University of Georgia, spliced with workouts in the gym.

“I’m a conservative not because someone told me to be. I’m a conservative because I believe in smaller government, a strong military, personal responsibility and making sure all people have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

Watch Walker’s announcement video at bottom of page

The video did not mention Trump, who has been encouraging Walker to make a Senate run for months. But his campaign website features a famous photo of Walker doing an elbow bump with the former president during the 2020 presidential campaign.

The campaign rollout was unusual in that Walker entered the race quietly, with a statement and website, rather that with a public event in front of reporters, who might have asked uncomfortable questions.

Walker, 59, was born and raised in Wrightsville, a small town in Middle Georgia. He led UGA’s football team to its only consensus national title in 1980 and, in 1982, won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top college football player.

He went on to play professional football, first in the USFL (where he played for a team Trump owned) and then in the NFL, where he retired from the Dallas Cowboys in 1997.

Since his retirement, Walker had been living in Texas, where he established a poultry business. He registered to vote in Georgia just days before entering the Senate race.

In a 2008 book, Walker disclosed that he has suffered from dissociative identity disorder, which used to be called multiple personality disorder. He credited therapy and his Christian faith for his recovery.

In July, the Associated Press published an extensive investigative profile of Walker, based on business and court records. According to the report, Walker’s ex-wife got a protective order in 2005, alleging violent and threatening behavior. Walker was also involved in several contentious disputes with his business partners and may have made exaggerated claims about his record as a businessman.

Walker did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment for the story. Refusing to address the allegations will be much harder to do in the heat of a political campaign.

Walker’s current wife, Julie Blanchard, is also under investigation by Georgia election officials for casting an absentee ballot in the 2020 election, despite residing in Texas. As one of Walker’s rivals for the GOP Senate nomination, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, noted, “it makes it very difficult to talk about voter fraud after that.”

Black, who has won statewide office three times, will certainly be no pushover for Walker. But Trump’s full-throated support for Walker will make his task that much harder, as evidenced by Black’s tepid fundraising in what will become one of the most expensive races of the 2022 cycle. (He’s raised $703,000, compared to $34 million for Warnock.)

The Republican field had been frozen for months as potential Senate candidates waited for Walker’s decision, with several members of Georgia’s U.S. House delegation looking at bids. But there will be very little appetite to take on the Trump-Walker duo.

In a sense, Georgia Republicans find themselves in this situation because of Republican Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to think outside the box and pick uber-wealthy businesswoman Kelly Loeffler for a Senate seat in 2020. She quickly proved to be out of her element against Warnock — with debate performances that were painful to watch — and could not hold the seat.

So is it wise for Georgia Republicans to think outside the box again with Walker, having no idea what kind of political candidate he will make? Particularly against Warnock, equipped as he is with the power of incumbency, a mountain of money, and Barack Obama-level political skills?

Georgia Bulldog fans view Walker fondly, even reverently. But it has been 40 years since he led them to glory — years in which the state has changed almost beyond recognition.

Trump, of course, is the ultimate example of using celebrity to gain political power, which is no doubt why he thinks Walker is a slam-dunk Senate choice.

But time will tell whether nominating Walker is strategic genius or an ill-fated gimmick. Control of the Senate may very well hang on the answer.

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Is demography destiny? Census data shows challenges ahead for Southern GOP

2020 figures show increases among voting groups that have been swinging to Democrats

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CFP Red Blue Circle(CFP) — Take a map showing population shifts across the South over the last 10 years and put it over a map of where Joe Biden performed best in 2020, and the connection will appear obvious.

The counties in the South that have gained population — large cities and surrounding suburbs — are the same places where Biden did well; the counties that shrank — rural areas and small towns — were places where Donald Trump rolled.

2020 population growth

New, detailed, local-level data released August 12 by the U.S. Census Bureau show that when Republicans across the South redraw lines for congressional and legislative districts to equalize population, maximizing their partisan advantage will be much trickier than it was a decade ago.

True, Republicans will still control the entire process in every Southern state except Louisiana and Virginia, which will give them ample opportunity to draw favorable maps. But this slicing and dicing will still have to account for the fact that the sheer number of hostile voters is growing at such a pace that gerrymandering will become ever more difficult.

The geographic partisan divide reflects another shift that has negative implications for the GOP — the Southern electorate is becoming less white.

In every Southern state except for South Carolina and Tennessee, the percentage of the population that self-classifies as white dropped — in some cases, dramatically. In Texas, it dropped 17.5%; in Florida, 12%. There are now five Southern states — Texas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana — where the white population is less than 60%, giving Democrats a base on which to build.

While the black population nationwide has been relatively stable since 2010, it grew faster than the national average in every Southern state except Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma, as the reverse migration of African Americans back to the region continues.

The most notable population change in the 2020 census was among Hispanic residents, who grew nationwide by 23% and now make up nearly 19% of the total population. But every Southern state except Texas saw the Hispanic population grow even faster than the national average, making them a much more visible presence in areas where they have previous had little political impact.

For decades, the bedrock of Republican strength in the South has been white voters in rural areas, small towns and suburbs, offsetting Democrat strength among African American voters and inner-city urban voters. Maps featuring suburban-rural districts have thus been used to maximum effect.

However, the population shifts in the new census numbers will dictate that rural districts with shrinking populations will have to expand to include more suburban territory, at the same time that Southern suburbs are becoming less reliably Republican.

In Georgia, for example, three counties in the Atlanta urban-suburban core — Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb — added 376,000 people over the last decade. Joe Biden carried all three, and Democrats have flipped two U.S. House seats here and gained a dozen state legislative seats. So can new lines be drawn to account for both the population boost and the political shift?

In Texas, eight counties added more than 200,000 each during the decade, a total of 2.5 million people combined, and all were in major metro areas — Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. By contrast, 144 counties lost population. So when legislators draw two new U.S. House districts, they will almost certainly have to be rooted in metro areas where Democrats have made gains.

This is not to suggest, of course, that Republican hegemony in the South is threatened in the short-term by these population shifts. Hispanic voters remain a relatively small part of the electorate outside of Florida and Texas, white voters are more monolithically Republican than in much of the rest of the country, and the suburbs remain competitive.

But amid unprecedented scrutiny of the map-making process — with activist groups ready to pounce on maps they feel are unfair — drawing new political lines that maximize Republican gains will be a fraught process.

The legal fight over Texas’s 2010 maps didn’t end until 2018. We can expect the same this time around, and probably in more places.

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