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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
WASHINGTON (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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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.
And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.
Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.
That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.
In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.
Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.
In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.
“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“
Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light
In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.
Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.
Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.
State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.
The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.
Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.
Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.
Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.
Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.
The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.
Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.