Politics

An Independent Redistricting Board In Texas? Unlikely, But Not Impossible.

Republican lawmakers will be loath to give up mapmaking power. But they may be more flexible if they lose control of the House of Representatives, say experts.

Redistricting will be a big issue in Texas next year. Right now, that power is in the hands of the Republican-dominated Legislature. It’s all the more significant, given that Texas is on track to gain another three congressional seats after the 2020 census, for a total of 39. But a handful of states have gone a different route, transferring the control over legislative mapmaking to an independent, nonpartisan commission. Could that happen in Texas?

In the near term, the answer is: probably not. Most of the seven states that have independent commissions adopted them by a citizens’ initiative. Since Texas doesn’t have that option, the only way it would happen would be if lawmakers voluntarily gave up their redistricting power.

Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, said that’s unlikely to happen in Texas, but not impossible.

“The reality is that when a legislature is looking at potentially split control or the changeover of control from one party to another, they’re the most likely to entertain the possibility of redistricting reform,” Feng said.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said it would take a unique set of circumstances.

“It would take us reaching a tipping point where Republicans are pessimistic about their prospects for retaining a majority, but Democrats are also pessimistic about their prospects for taking a majority as well,” Jones said.

Democrats need to flip nine seats to gain control of the Texas House of Representatives in 2020. Jones said that, even if the Democrats were to take control of the House, the Republicans will still have the governorship and, almost certainly, the Senate. That would give them an outsize role in the Legislative Redistricting Board, the entity that would draw new legislative boundaries if the House and Senate prove unable to agree on maps during the 2021 legislative session.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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