Will a Perrymandered State Determine Who Controls the Next Congress?
February 1, 2012 | by Lou Dubose
Redistricting is always a blood sport. In 2011, the decennial redrawing of political boundaries in Texas was bloodier than usual. After the 2010 census, the state was awarded four new Congressional seats, to reflect an increase in population. How those seats were divided by the Legislature could determine who controls the next Congress.
And while it is literally correct to say that “the Legislature” allocated the House seats, the decisions were made by Republican legislators in Austin acting on directions from Republican members of the House in Washington.
The Republican Party exercises absolute control in Texas — holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature and every statewide elected office. It cannot, however, control the state’s demographics.
Since 2000, the Texas population has grown from 20,851,820 to 25,145,561. Nine of 10 new Texans are Hispanic or black. Blacks vote Democratic. As do Hispanics, and Hispanics accounted for more than 65 percent of population growth in the state.
As a candidate for governor, George W. Bush spent tens of millions cultivating Hispanic voters. Then the Texas Republican Party abandoned the state’s Hispanic population, or alienated it with legislation overtly hostile to its interests. Sanctuary City legislation that would turn local law-enforcement officers into Border Patrol agents angered Hispanics, and a Voter ID law antagonized Hispanic and black Texans.
Republicans could only maintain their electoral hegemony by diluting the minority vote, which is a challenge because the state is required to “preclear” its reapportioned maps with the Justice Department.
The Legislature ignored demographics, drawing three new U.S. House districts that will elect Republicans, and leaving one new seat for the Democrats.
Democratic members of the U.S. House, state legislators, and individual plaintiffs filed suit in San Antonio. Republican House members responded with a motion claiming that their correspondence is protected by the Constitution’s Congressional Speech and Debate Clause. Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia found the motion so outrageous that he ordered immediately posted on the internet the e-mails and other documents the Republican defendants were trying to protect.
The documents describe the manipulation of minority voting precincts to protect Republican interests. They also reveal that much of the redistricting work was done behind closed doors.
San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith coordinated the redrawing of House district lines. Consider one memo, on which Smith scrawled “Confidential. Let’s discuss before you show anyone.” The memo, titled “Redistricting Proposal,” describes the Republicans’ decision to take three of the four new House seats. The Republican plan, Smith writes:
• Maintains the core of current districts unless requested otherwise
• Strives to be fair and reflect the changing demographics of Texas
• Creates four new districts as allowed by the census results
1. One new likely Republican district in East Texas
2. One new likely Republican district in South Texas
3. One new Voting Rights Act district in South Texas that leans Republican
4. One new Voting Rights Act district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area
• Results in 25 congressional districts that lean Republican and 11 that lean Democratic
Another e-mail, from Eric Opiela, a lawyer working for the Texas House delegation in Washington, reveals the exquisite fine-tuning of district boundaries and populations:
Lamar would like Bexar pct 4008 (465 people); it’s in CD 35 in plan C136. It’s the SA Country Club adjacent to SJS’s house. Giving it to lamar would help improve ssvr a fraction in CD35.
“SJS” refers to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus. Smith was moving 465 white, Republican voters into his district. By removing them from the adjacent district, he was slightly increasing the percentage of Spanish-surname voter registration (ssvr) there, making it easier to defend in court. The process was played out again and again across the state.
Far more damaging to the state is an e-mail that Opiela sent to Gerardo Interiano, who had left Lamar Smith’s D.C. office to work for Straus. (The e-mail was not included in the documents posted on the internet, but obtained by the Spectator from another source.) In it, Opiela describes a process that can be used to calculate differences between critical categories of voters:
• total Hispanic population
• Spanish Surname RV (registered voters) • Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP)
• Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population
• Spanish Surname Turnout (TO)
• Total Turnout
With this data collected from all the state’s voting tabulation districts (VTDs), mapmakers could pack a district with Hispanics unlikely to turn out to vote:
These metrics would be useful in identifying a “nudge factor” by which one can analyze which census blocks, when added to a particular district (especially 50+1 minority majority districts), help pull the district’s Total Hispanic Pop and Hispanic CVAPs up to minority status, but leave the Spanish Surname RV and TO the lowest. This is especially valuable in shoring up Canseco and Farenthold.
Quico Canseco is a first-term Republican Hispanic who has little appeal among Hispanic voters. Blake Farenthold is a first-term Anglo Republican who narrowly won, and will lose the Hispanic vote in his Corpus Christi district. The two Congressmen can only win in a minority-majority district if the percentage of Hispanics registered to vote (RV) and the Hispanic voter turnout (TO) is low.
Opiela’s e-mail is dated November 19, 2010, two months before the Legislature convened.
The decision to avoid Justice Department preclearance was also preordained. In April, two months before any committee voted on any House district, Congressman Smith informed Speaker Straus’s chief of staff in Austin that Texas would not be filing for preclearance with the Justice Department, where they almost certainly would be denied. The state would opt for the costlier and slower preclearance by a D.C. district court:
For exp, we agree that we are not going to seek doj preclearance but will go to a three judge panel in DC.
Dub Maines, a member of Congressman Joe Barton’s staff, warned in an e-mail that Republicans could lose all they gained if they bypassed the Justice Department and went to court:
If Texas foregoes DOJ preclearance and litigation is not completed in the DCDC, the Texas three-judge panel cannot use the legislatively-enacted map and would be required to begin from the 2003 map as if this were a deadlock case.… The courts will draw the map de novo as they did in 2001. Doggett will be re-elected. Canseco will not be. Farenthold will not be. They will likely split the baby on the 4 new seats. The Ds pick up a net of 4 seats. The Rs pick up a net of zero seats.
Smith fired back, warning that Maines was “sending e-mails that may be used against us in court.” The Maines e-mail is one of thousands of trial exhibits. Its prediction that a three-judge panel in Texas would redraw the U.S. House map to the Democrats’ advantage was borne out. Federal courts in San Antonio and D.C., and the Supreme Court, are sorting out the Republicans’ reapportionment plan.
In this e-mail, Eric Opiela—the attorney representing the Texas delegation in the U.S. House—tells two Texas legislators how to manipulate certified voting age population (CVAP); Hispanic CVAP; registered voters (RV); and turnout (TO) in voting tabulation districts (VTD). The plan: to create two “Hispanic” congressional districts in which Hispanics are unlikely to turn out to vote—that is, districts that Republican candidates can win. —L.D. From: Eric Opiela Sent: Wednesday November 17, 2010 10:19 PM To: Gerardo Interiano Subject: useful metric...
[It] would be really useful for someone to go in and calculate a ratio for every census block in the state of CVAP/Total Population, a ratio of Hispanic CVAP/Total Hispanic Population, a ratio of Spanish Surname RV/ Hispanic CVAP, and a ratio of Spanish Surname RV/ Total Hispanic Population (these last two have to be calculated with the voter file overlaid with census stats). It also would be good to Calculate a Spanish Surname Turnout/Total Turnout ratio for the 2006-2010 General Elections for all VTDs. Already have the data for 2006-2008 in a spreadsheet, just need to gather it for every VTD for 2010.) These metrics would be useful in identifying a “nudge factor” by which one can analyze which census blocks, when added to a particular district (especially 50+1 minority majority districts) help pull the district’s Total Hispanic Pop and Hispanic CVAPs up to minority status, but leave the Spanish Surname RV and TO the lowest. This is especially valuable in shoring up Canseco and Farenthold.