Politics

Texas Senate passes new controversial congressional maps

The proposed maps would reshape the 18th and 9th Congressional Districts, leading Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congressman Al Green to argue they’re being forced to run against each other.

The chamber of the Texas State Senate in the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

The Texas Senate on Friday approved new congressional maps — Senate Bill 6 — on a party-line vote of 18-to-13. The new maps include controversial shifts in Houston's two historically African-American represented districts.

The maps designed by Republican State Senator Joan Huffman would shift several key regions out of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's 18th Congressional District into Congressman Al Green's 9th Congressional District, leading both members to argue that they're being forced to run against each other.

The areas being stripped out of Jackson Lee's district include Houston's downtown business district, Third Ward — a historically Black community, which includes Texas Southern University — the University of Houston's main campus, and Jackson Lee's own home. Portions of Green's district have been transferred to Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia's 29th Congressional District, including Green's own district headquarters.

Democratic State Senator Borris Miles, the state senator for much of the region represented in Congress by Jackson Lee and Green, led an unsuccessful effort to reverse the changes, proposing a pair of amendments that were each defeated on strict party-line votes. Miles noted that the historically African-American Fifth and Third Wards would now have separate representation in Congress.

"The Fifth Ward and Third Wards have worked very effectively together, in interest. They have helped to advance each other. And this new map changes all that," Miles said. "The harm is that African American voters and communities of interest are disenfranchised, severely disenfranchised, under SB 6."

Huffman herself prepared an amendment that would have made moderate changes, including restoring Jackson Lee's home to her district, but Huffman withdrew her amendment when it became clear Democrats would not support it.

Many of the state's Latino senators raised similar objections to Huffman's formulation.

"I have a concern that under the current proposed map, I don't see any additional Hispanic opportunity districts, and rather, I see the reduction inside a district," said State Senator José Menéndez. "We know that 95% of the population's growth in Texas (over the last decade) has been of people of color, I don't understand how we could not have a new minority opportunity seat."

Under the proposed maps, the number of Latino opportunity districts would be reduced from eight to seven, while the number of Black opportunity districts would be reduced from one to zero.

Huffman responded to these and similar challenges by arguing that her proposed maps conformed to current federal law.

"The maps were drawn blind to race," Huffman said. "Once they were drawn, they were checked for compliance. We were assured that all the existing minority opportunity districts, whether they be Black or Latino, were going to perform as such. And we saw no evidence, no strong basis in evidence, that a new minority opportunity district should be drawn."

The redistricting bill now moves to the Texas House.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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