By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
AUSTIN – State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, has at least two reasons to think Texas can redistrict State House, State Senate and U.S. House seats without federal courts rejecting their plan.
“You bet we can,” Hughes, a member of the Texas Senate Redistricting Committee, told the Jimplecute in an exclusive interview this week. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering gives Hughes some of his confidence.
“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the conservative majority last month.
“Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”
The decision leaves redistricting questions in the hands of the states. “I think it’s a great ruling,” Hughes said. “The opinion does make sense where it says this is a political process so you can take politics into account.
You know the people of Texas elect the Senate and the House and they elect us to do their will and so a lot that is political.” Hughes noted the court still requires that when a state draws those lines you cannot discriminate based on race.
“We’re not going to do that,” Hughes said. ‘We’ve been following the law.” Another cause for optimism for a successful 2021 redistricting effort, both of Marion County’s representatives in Austin will have pencils in their hands when time comes to redraw maps.
In addition to Hughes serving on the Senate Redistricting Committee, State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, sits on the House panel. “The House will pass whatever map they pass for the House and vice versa,” Hughes explained how each chamber traditionally defers to the other on redistricting.
The new map, however, must clear both houses. “Those U.S. Congressional maps, with Texas expected to pick up three or maybe four additional Congressional seats, may be some of the most important work we do,” Hughes said.
In an earlier interview, Paddie noted how both House and Senate districts will increase in population. In 2011, House districts contained approximately 165,000 people. Following the 2020 Census, the size of a Texas House district will grow to about 200,000.
“My district, obviously, hasn’t grown by that many people,” Paddie said. “What that likely means is that we have to figure out where I go grab another 25,000-30,000 people.” According to Paddie’s figures, a Texas Senate seat will soon represent more than 1 million Texans.
A U.S. House of Representative will represent more than 750,000. Hughes agreed, observing that a Texas Senate district already has more people than a U.S. Congressional District. “In this next census, we will continue to have 31 Texas Senators, but we’re going to have 39 or 40 members of the U.S. Congress from Texas,” Hughes said.
“So a Texas Senate seat will be significantly bigger than a U.S. Congressional seat. In fact, the Texas Senate district will probably be the biggest legislative districts in the country.” As new maps are drawn, district packing and communities of interest remain two important issues to consider on where to draw boundaries.
“District packing has slowly been the trend over the last 20 years,” Hughes said. “There are fewer and fewer districts that are competitive in the fall, because they are drawn in a safe Republican or a safe Democratic district.”
Although Hughes said more competitive districts make sense, he is not confident much will change in this redistricting round. “The trend in America has been to draw those districts where the fight is in the primary and not in the fall,” Hughes said.
“I’m not sure how healthy that is either, but I don’t know how much it’s going to change.” The community of interest requirement means districts should contain voters of similar demographics.
“If you look at those principles of redistricting,” Hughes said, “we look at the districts that are supposed to geographically compact as much as possible, right? They shouldn’t be these sprawling or gerrymandered messes.
“You’ve got to have compact districts. You’re not supposed to split up communities of interest if you can avoid it. You look at who people have been voting for and you try to keep people with familiar representation as much as you can. So all those things, all those are still in place.” Hughes said the Senate committee plans hearings across the state and he hopes to have one in Northeast Texas.
“Senator Joan Huffman from Houston will be chairing the committee,” Hughes said. “She’s a former prosecutor and district judge. She’s very sharp and knows the law. I’m very happy to be on that committee.”
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