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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.

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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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Big Risk: Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott double down on mandates despite unpredictability of COVID crisis

Will short-term gain for leading charge against COVID-19 restrictions backfire if cases surge in schools?

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CFP Red Blue Circle(CFP) — A number of Southern Republican political leaders — most notably, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott — have decided to take a huge gamble; namely, to lead the charge against new COVID-19 restrictions, despite the Delta variant ripping across their states, filling up hospitals and stretching front-line workers to their breaking point.

It’s an experiment — literally — that is particularly risky given that one of the populations being experimented are hundreds of thousands of school children, whose parents cannot get them COVID-19 vaccinations even if they want to.

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Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas

If DeSantis and Abbott are right — that all of the doomsaying and caterwauling by public health officials is an overblown overreaction — their gamble is likely to delight their base and pay dividends when they come up for re-election next year.

But if they are wrong — if busloads of children start getting sick or dying — these current prohibitive favorites could find themselves in electoral trouble. Which begs the question, is it worth the risk?

To see the possible pitfalls of this strategy, one need only look at the school district in Marion, Arkansas, where, after just the first week of classes in August, 900 students and staff were in quarantine.

That was enough to convince Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson that his decision back in April to sign into law a ban on mask mandates, pushed through by Republican lawmakers, was a mistake. It was not, however, enough to convince those lawmakers to reverse the mask ban when Hutchinson summoned them back to Little Rock for a special session to do so.

To be clear, neither DeSantis and Abbott are anti-vaxxers. On the other hand, they are not merely taking a personal political stand against mask and vaccine mandates — they are aggressively pushing back against local officials and even private businesses who want to put these measures into place themselves.

Two hallmarks of traditional conservatism are giving power to local officials to make decisions they think best for their communities (particularly school boards) and giving businesses free hand to run their enterprises as they see fit. Both have gone out the window amid a conservative backlash to mask and vaccine mandates, a wave which DeSantis and Abbott seem eager to ride.

DeSantis has gone so far as to oppose hospitals requiring staff on the front lines of the pandemic to get vaccinations, and he has gone to court to block cruise lines from requiring vaccinations for passengers, which the cruise companies desperately want.

Given the devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 among cruise ship passengers during the early days of the pandemic, cruise companies want to err on the side of caution; DeSantis is coming down instead on the side of an expansive sense of personal liberty, even at the expense of public health.

Both Abbott and DeSantis are responding to a part of their base that is skeptical of vaccines and vehemently opposed to mask mandates and lockdowns. Some of these people even argue that masks are harmful for children, an assertion not supported by any reputable medical research.

The irony, of course, if that if these people had gotten vaccinated, the COVID-19 might now be mostly over, eliminating the possibility of mandates or lockdowns.

It makes sense, with perverted logic, for people who believe COVID is a hoax to support dispensing with restrictions even though most people are still unvaccinated. But if the last 18 months have taught Abbott and DeSantis anything, it is surely that COVID isn’t a hoax.

Abbott is facing primary challengers who already complain that he’s taken too many COVID precautions, perhaps explaining why he’s so resistant to more. DeSantis is not yet being primaried on this issue, so taking a hard line here is perhaps a way to stopping a challenge from getting off the ground — not to mention helping him with a possible 2024 presidential run.

Still, a recent Florida polled showed DeSantis’s job approval under water, in a state where the last three governor’s races were decided by 1 point or less. Texas is more Republican but not out of reach for Democrats if the public comes to believe people have died needlessly under Abbott’s stewardship.

Two other facts call into question the wisdom of DeSantis and Abbott’s big risk.

First, the fallout from the COVID pandemic likely cost Donald Trump re-election, something even the former president has been willing to concede. So, perhaps this is a lesson to which more attention needs to be paid.

And second, COVID has proven to not only be tremendously deadly but highly unpredictable. So, climbing out on a political limb and hoping that the worst public health crisis in a century will turn out all right in the end would seem a dubious long-term strategy, even if the base lustily cheers in the short term.

However, for better or worse, both DeSantis and Abbott have embraced this risk. So in that bed they will now have to lie.

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Texas State Rep. Jake Ellzey wins U.S. House runoff, defeats Trump-backed Susan Wright

Ellzey will replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died from COVID-19 in February

TexasARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — State Rep. Jake Ellzey claimed Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat in Tuesday’s all-Republican runoff, defeating Susan Wright, who was trying to keep the seat of her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright.

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U.S. Rep.-elect Jake Ellzey, R-Texas

The result was a blow to former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Wright and publicly supported her candidacy in the final stretch. His super PAC also dropped $100,000 in a last minute advertising buy.

Ellzey took 53% in the runoff to 47% for Wright to win a district that includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

The all-party special election was called after Ron Wright’s death from COVID-19, while undergoing cancer treatment in February.

In the first round of voting in May, Wright and Ellzey claimed both spots in the runoff. Democrats were boxed out when the party’s 2018 nominee for the seat, Jana Lynne Sanchez, came in third, just 350 votes behind Ellzey.

Democrats had hopes of flipping the seat in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth, which Trump carried by just 3 points in 2020. But two other Democrats in the race took 10,000 votes from Sanchez, securing the seat for the GOP.

Tuesday’s runoff was something of a rematch from the 2018 election for the post, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to win an open seat.

The district’s previous long-time congressman, Joe Barton, endorsed Ellzey, as did Governor Greg Abbott and former Governor Rick Perry. But Trump went all in for Wright.

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All-Republican runoff set for vacant Texas U.S. House seat

Susan Wright, widow of late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, will face State. Rep. Jake Ellzey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ARLINGTON, Texas (CFP) — Susan Wright, the widow of the late Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, claimed first place Saturday in a special election to fill his Texas’s 6th U.S. House District seat and will now face fellow Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey in a runoff.

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez finished just 354 votes behind Ellzey, narrowly missing a chance to set up her party to flip a suburban district in metro Dallas-Fort Worth that Donald Trump carried by just 3 points in November.

Michael Wood — a businessman and former Marine Corps officer who ran openly in the race as an anti-Trump Republican and charged that the GOP has devolved into a “cult of personality” — finished ninth in the 23-person field, showing the limits of that strategy in pro-Trump Texas.

Susan Wright and Jake Ellzey

In a low-turnout Saturday special election with a crowded field, Wright came in first with 15,052 votes (19%), with Ellzey coming in second with 10,851 (14%) and Sanchez in third with 10,497 (13%).

The final day of the contest was rocked by a robocall made in the district accusing Wright of murdering her husband, who died in February from COVID-19 while being treated for cancer. Her campaign contacted the FBI to investigate.

The runoff will be something of a rematch of the Republican runoff for the seat in 2018, when Ron Wright defeated Ellzey to represent the district, which includes Arlington and parts of Tarrant County, along with Ellis and Navarro counties to the south.

Susan Wright has been endorsed by Donald Trump. Ellzey has the support of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who will set the date for the runoff.

Sanchez had been the Democratic nominee against Ron Wright in 2018, a race chronicled in the Showtime documentary “Surge.” But this time around, she was unable to coalesce enough of the Democratic vote to win a spot in the all-party contest, with the second and third-place Democrats in the field — Shawn Lassiter and Lydia Bean — winning nearly 10,000 votes between them.

The race — the second special election for a Republican-held seat since Trump’s loss in November — drew national attention due to a number of colorful candidates who entered the wide-open contest.

Dan Rodimer, a former professional wrestler who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for a House seat in the Las Vegas area in 2020, parachuted into Texas to try again, airing an ad in which he carried an assault rifle and vowed to “strip power” from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a stance that raised eyebrows in the wake of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

He finished in 11th place.

Sery Kim, a Korean-American who served in the Small Business Administration under Trump, drew criticism when she said during a forum that she did not want Chinese immigrants in the United States “at all” and blamed them for bringing  COVID-19 into the United States.

She won just 888 votes and finished 16th.

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New Census figures show 5-seat shift in Southern U.S. House districts

Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Census Bureau released population totals for reapportionment of U.S. House seats Monday that will alter the size of delegations in four Southern states.

Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.

However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.

West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.

Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.

Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.

The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.

Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.

However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.

Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.

In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.

No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.

While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.

Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.

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