Texas' growth poses challenges for redistricting

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The state’s large population increase and diversification will be obstacles Texas House members will face when they redraw the lines for state voting districts, said state representatives at a committee meeting Tuesday.

The Texas Legislative Council and the Office of the State Demographer testified before the House Committee on Redistricting at its first meeting of the 82nd Legislature. It was the first time the committee heard any presentation of census data. Lawmakers redraw district boundaries every 10 years after the federal government publishes census data.

“The challenge that we have in this committee is to draw our districts to reflect the changing demographics that we’ve heard a lot about,” said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the vice chairman of the redistricting committee. “There seems to be a tension we’re wrestling with drawing these new districts to recognize the changing diversity.”

Representatives from both agencies agreed that the 2010 U.S. Census signals a dramatic increase of Hispanics in the state of Texas — 2.8 million people out of the total 4.2 million population growth, 2.8 million were Hispanic.

The committee avoided discussing how individual districts would be affected. Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said his district is likely to lose two House seats after reviewing census data because the district increased by only about 1 percent, or 182,761 people. Other counties grew by percentages in the double digits — for example, Travis County grew by 26 percent.

“We’ve been here 13-14 days after the U.S. census delivered their numbers, and it’s now time to hear an update about what this data says and what it will mean as we embark upon our constitutional task,” said committee chairman Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton.

The council’s Senior Legislative Counsel David Hanna said one of the main goals during redistricting is to maintain whole counties as single districts. At least 20 of the state’s 254 counties are currently divided into multiple districts because of the counties’ large populations. Each district should have a population of about 167,637 people, Hanna said.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said he has noticed a dramatic increase of Hispanics in the area between San Antonio and Austin. State demographer Lloyd Potter said most of the state’s new Hispanic individuals settled in major urban areas and along the border.

“The Latino population grew from 32 percent to 38 percent,” Potter said. “More and more counties are becoming 50 percent or more Hispanic.”

Potter said Asian and African-American populations largely settled in North Texas, Houston and Austin areas. According to census data, most of the growth trend in Texas occurred east of the Interstate Highway 35 corridor, and the state continues to be half urban and half rural.

“One hundred seventy-five counties gained population,” Potter said. “My assessment is that the undercount issue was not as present as many of us thought it would be.”